Analysts fear the post-election power struggle could herald a return to violence  [Reuters]

International donors to Cote d'Ivoire have put their lending under review as the power struggle between Alassane Ouattara and Laurent Gbagbo, who both claim victory in the country's presidential election, escalates in the West African nation.

Citing a "breakdown of governance", the World Bank and the African Development Bank said on Monday that they would reassess aid to the country.

"In line with our policies, we will continue to closely monitor developments and reassess the usefulness and effectiveness of our programmes given the breakdown in governance," the banks said in a joint statement.

The World Bank has tied the cancellation of $3bn of external debt, out of an estimated total $12.5bn, to smooth elections. The move puts pressure on Gbagbo, the incumbent president, to back down.

Political manoeuvring

The country's November 28 election was meant to reunite the country after a 2002-03 civil war, but the poll ended in crisis as both Gbagbo and Ouattara have taken presidential oaths.

Analysts warned the electoral dispute could trigger fresh unrest in the country, which, as the world's top cocoa grower, has in the past been a regional economic success story.

The United Nations ordered 460 non-essential staff to leave on Monday because ofthe political uncertainty.

"Given the security situation in [Ivory Coast] and in accordance with standard UN procedures, non-essential staff members will be temporarily relocated to the Gambia," Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman, said.

Ouattara has international backing, but Gbagbo has the support of the nation's top legal body and the military.

In the latest political manoeuvring, Ouattara has offered government positions to members of his rival's cabinet if Gbagbo backs down.

Guillaume Soro, Ivory Coast's former prime minister, who has pledged to serve Ouattara, told France's Europe 1 radio: "If Laurent Gbagbo agrees to leave power quietly, the ministers from his party would be welcome in the government we plan to lead."

Ouattara has set up his administration in a hotel in the economic capital of Abidjan.

Around the corner from the hotel, soldiers loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo have set up a position toting machine guns.

Results reversed

Late on Sunday, Ouattara named Charles Koffi Dibby, Gbagbo's former finance minister, as a member of his cabinet, a move which would strip Gbagbo of an official praised for his handling of debt talks.

Dibby was not available to confirm he had switched sides.

Little progress appears to have been made in mediation efforts led by Thabo Mbeki, left [AFP]

The political deadlock in Cote d'Ivoire comes after its Constitutional Council, which is run by a staunch ally of Gbagbo, scrapped hundreds of thousands of votes from Ouattara strongholds, reversing provisional results from the Election Commission that had given Ouattara a win.

Gbagbo says he is the rightful winner of the runoff vote, citing the Ivorian constitution that gives ultimate authority, which declared him the winner.

But Ouattara points to a 2007 peace deal, which states that the UN must certify the election results. The UN maintains the vote was credible, and that Ouattara won.

Nicolas Sarkozy, president of former colonial power France, called Gbagbo over the weekend to appeal to him to step down.

"I said the following to him: it's up to him how he wants to go down in history. He organised elections, they went smoothly. No challenge is possible," he told reporters while on a trip to India.

Little progress appears to have been made in mediation talks over the weekend led by Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president.

Despite the political stand-off, Cote d'Ivoire on Monday reopened its borders, which had been sealed during a tense wait for the results, and traffic in Abidjan was nearly back to normal.

Source: Agencies