|The UN says at least 173 people have been killed in post-election violence [AFP]
The Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) has cut off access to state funds for the government of Laurent Gbagbo, the president of Cote d'Ivoire, following last month's disputed presidential election.
The bank made the decision in an emergency session on Friday and later said that only representatives of Alassane Ouattara, who has been recognised by the UN as the winner of the election, will have signing privileges on state accounts.
Gbagbo has refused to concede defeat amid post-election violence that the UN says has killed at least 173 people and prompted fears of a return to civil war.
The move by the bank, which regroups the treasuries of eight West African countries, is expected to increase pressure on Gbagbo and complicate his efforts to pay civil servants and soldiers.
Allies of Ouattara hope the move will set the stage for mass defections if people do not get paid.
There has been much speculation in recent days as to whether Gbagbo would be able to pay state salaries, despite nightly assurances on television that payments would be available before Christmas.
On Thursday morning, several banks in Abidjan, the country's largest city, posted notices in their windows saying that they would not be cashing civil servant pay cheques because they had not received a guarantee from the government that they would be reimbursed.
Lines of civil servants formed outside the banks, but hours later the notices were removed and people started receiving their money.
West African leaders are holding talks in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, to discuss options for putting pressure on Gbago.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), has already suspended Cote d'Ivoire from the organisation.
"At this meeting [heads of state] will be deciding what more we can do to help the situation in the Ivory Coast," said a spokesman for ECOWAS.
Newspapers in Abidjan have speculated the regional body would consider sending an intervention force after a top Ouattara aide said force was the "only solution" to oust Gbagbo.
On Thursday, the UN general assembly formally recognised Ouattara as the winner of the presidential election.
|A Dutch warship is on its way to Cote d'Ivoire to assist in the evacuation of European citizens [AFP]
The 192-nation body unanimously accepted a resolution recognising Youssouf Bamba, Ouattara's selection of ambassador to the UN, as the sole representative for Cote d'Ivoire.
World leaders and the UN mission in Cote d'Ivoire had already named Ouattara as the winner of the November 28 runoff poll.
In addition to the deaths it has reported in the post-election violence, the UN says at least 471 arrests and detentions were recorded between December 16 and 21.
Residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods have said that masked gunmen have been breaking into homes by night and kidnapping people.
Concerns of further instability have prompted a Dutch warship sail to the country, aimed at providing logistical support to French naval ships and possibly assist in the evacuation of European citizens.
The Dutch defence ministry said on Friday that the French government had requested assistance from the Netherlands, which agreed to despatch the warship - the Amsterdam.
While Ouattara has the backing of the international community, Gbagbo still controls the country's military and also dominates state media.
The army's support for Gbagbo is seen as one of the main reasons that he has been able to defy calls to step down.
The US and the EU have placed travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, and the World Bank on Wednesday froze funding to the country, to which it has aid commitments of over $800m.
Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving to the pressure and insists he won the election, after the Constitutional Court headed by one of his allies threw out hundreds of thousands of votes from pro-Ouattara constituencies.
The standoff turned violent last week after gun battles broke out briefly between government soldiers and the rebels who now back Ouattara.