Fire engulfs Cote d'Ivoire treasury

Flames rip through country's finance ministry building amid political standoff in country.

    The blaze tore through several floors of the Ivorian National Treasury building in Abidjan's business district [AFP]

    Several floors of Cote d'Ivoire's finance ministry building were gutted and untold numbers of financial records destroyed after a fire broke out at the multi-storied office.

    Flames reportedly tore through the building at around 1200GMT on Tuesday, when many employees were on their lunch break.

    "We went to eat and people called us to say that our building was on fire," treasury worker Aicha Kone, one among the hundreds watching the blaze in the country's largest city, Abidjan, said.

    The fire engulfed five floors of the building before being brought under control by firefighters.

    Fire and rescue officials refused to speculate on the cause of the fire, which comes as incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo - who refused to step down after UN-ratified results showed he lost November's presidential election to Alassane Ouattara - is facing increased economic pressures, as international sanctions begin to bite.

    The Central Bank of West African States last month cut Gbagbo off from state coffers in an attempt to loosen his grip on power - to which Gbagbo responded by seizing the bank's offices across the country. The crisis has led Cote d'Ivoire to default on an interest payment for its $2.3bn bond.

    Mediators have condemned perceived attempts by African nations to take sides in the power struggle, as a South African warship floats in the waters off the coastal nation.

    'The solidarity that started among us in the international community is fast being eroded,' James Victor Gbeho, president of West African bloc ECOWAS, said.

    South African officials said the vessel, anchored in international waters for the past two weeks, was not arming either side in the tense standoff - and was available as a venue for negotiations.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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