More talks needed in Ivory Coast crisis -ECOWAS envoys

ABIDJAN, (Reuters) – A delegation of three West  African presidents who met with incumbent Ivory Coast leader  Laurent Gbagbo yesterday to deliver an ultimatum to step down  or face force left saying more meetings were needed.

Gbagbo’s government, meanwhile, remained defiant in the face  of international pressure to cede power, saying it would sever  ties with any country that recognised envoys named by rival  presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara —  a powerful sign he  was not about to quit.

“The government would like to make it known that in the  light of such decisions, it reserves the right to apply  reciprocity in ending the missions of their ambassadors in Ivory  Coast,” the government’s spokesman said in a statement on  national television yesterday.

Laurent Gbagbo

French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie had said that  France would accredit a new Ivorian ambassador at the request of  Ouattara’s government, which it recognises as the winner of last  month’s contested election.

Three west African presidents — Benin’s Yayi, Sierra  Leone’s Ernest Bai Koroma and Cape Verde’s Pedro Pires — met  Gbagbo to deliver an ultimatum from the ECOWAS regional bloc to  step down as leader of the world’s top cocoa grower or face  removal by force.

The delegation planned to travel to Nigeria to report back  to the bloc’s chairman, Goodluck Jonathan.
“The chairman will negotiate a date for our return, but it  would be soon,” Cape Verde’s president said.
The foreign minister of Gbagbo’s government, Alcide Djedje,  when asked about the timing of the next meeting, said it would  be “around January 2.”

Gbagbo’s government has signalled he is unlikely to agree  to bow to international pressure and cede power to Ouattara,  considered by regional and world powers to be the legitimate  winner of last month’s presidential election.

The United States and the European Union have imposed a  travel ban on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank  and the regional West African central bank have frozen his  finances in an attempt to weaken his grip on power.

Gbagbo’s camp originally said it would welcome the visiting  leaders “as brothers and friends, and listen to the message they  have to convey”. But shortly before the meeting, his government  warned it would not tolerate any meddling in its affairs.

“Let’s avoid political delinquency. No international  institution has the right to intervene by force to impose a  president in a sovereign state,” government spokesman Ahoua Don  Melo told the BBC when asked if Gbagbo would leave.
Post-election violence has killed more than 170 people and  threatens to tip the country back into civil war.
In a sign of mounting tensions, a crowd attacked a United  Nations convoy yesterday, wounding one peacekeeper with a  machete and setting fire to a vehicle, according to a statement  issued by the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast.

Provisional election results showed Ouattara winning by 8  percentage points. But the nation’s top court, run by a Gbagbo  ally, overturned the results amid allegations of fraud.

The standoff turned violent this month after Ouattara  supporters tried to seize the state broadcaster’s building and  clashed with security forces. At least 20 people were killed.

After several days of calm, sporadic gunfire was heard on  Tuesday morning in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Abobo, a  stronghold of Ouattara supporters. A Reuters witness said police  were chasing youths trying to set up barricades with burning  tyres. It was not known if there were any casualties.

The turmoil has pushed cocoa futures to  four-month highs  amid fears it could eventually disrupt exports. Ivory Coast’s  Eurobond, meanwhile, hit a record low last week on concern that  the country would not meet a nearly $30 million bond payment due  on Dec. 31.

Creditors will try to start negotiations with Ivory Coast in  January if the country fails to pay on time, a senior debt  negotiator said yesterday in an interview with Reuters.

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