Gbagbo seizes central bank branches
Cote d'Ivoire's incumbent leader orders the seizure of Ivorian branches of the Central Bank of West African States.
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2011 20:09 GMT
Dacoury-Tabley, the Ivorian governor of the BCEAO and an ally of Gbagbo, resigned from his post on Saturday [AFP]

Laurent Gbagbo, Cote d'Ivoire's incumbent leader, has ordered the seizure of Ivorian branches of the the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), in an attempt to retain control of state finances and his grip on power.

Gbagbo's finance minister instructed staff on Wednesday to answer to local officials and not the bank's management, which is based in Dakar in Senegal. 

In response, Alassane Ouattara, the internationally-recognised winner of November's disputed presidential election, ordered the closure of the Ivorian branches of the BCEAO and vowed to prosecute anyone following Gbagbo's orders.

"Such a measure is intended to securitise the financial assets of the Ivorian state and of individuals," Ouattara's parallel government, which is operating from a UN-guarded hotel in Abidjan, the financial capital, said in a statement.

On Saturday, Philippe-Henry Dacoury-Tabley, the Ivorian governor of the BCEAO and an ally of Gbagbo, resigned from his post.

Although the heads of state of West Africa's single currency zone have said the funds of the Ivorian branches of the bank are under Ouattara's control, the offices are surrounded by heavily armed soldiers.

Officials said that the Gbagbo government had succeeded in paying pensioners through the central bank on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear how much money is held by the BCEAO locally but diplomats say the figure is relatively small compared to Gbagbo's spending needs, including a $100m monthly wage bill for the army and public sector workers.

Cocoa ban

The squeeze on the banking system followed a string of measures including asset freezes and bans on doing business with a number of Gbagbo's supporters and institutions.

Laurent Dona-Fologo a pro-Gbagbo head of an economic and social advisory council, said Gbagbo was merely fighting for the country's economic independence and his camp would continue to resist efforts to oust him.

"We think our country should rethink regional co-operation and our policy of integration," he said.

The struggle over funding comes as a month-long ban on cocoa export registrations called by Ouattara, in an effort to deprive Gbagbo of funds, along with European Union sanctions on shipping, appeared to be taking effect.

The EU earlier this month banned EU-registered vessels from conducting new business at the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro.

Cocoa warehouses in Cote d'Ivoire were reported quickly filling up on Wednesday as the sanctions cut the number of ships arriving to pick up beans registered for export.

"This is a big problem for us all," said the director of one firm based in San Pedro.

"But we are waiting for ships to arrive to load the cocoa that is waiting at port ... in order to make space for the new cocoa [arriving from the countryside]."

Cocoa futures have hit one-year peaks on concern over supply from the top producer country, which accounts for about a third of the global harvest.

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