Deaths as Ivorian clashes continue

Cote d'Ivoire faces the spectre of a renewed civil war as the crisis over the disputed presidential election deepens.


    At least three people have been killed in the latest violence in Cote d'Ivoire, a day after forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the disputed president confirmed that supporters of his rival Alassane Ouattara had seized a third town in the country's west.

    Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow, reporting from Abidjan, said Gbagbo's internal security minister announced on Tuesday that "three people were killed overnight in a suburb where both Ouattara and Gbagbo supporters live side by side".

    The news came after Gbagbo supporters confirmed that rebels had taken control of the town of Touleleu.

    The announcement was the latest in a post-election standoff between Gbagbo and Ouattara that has degenerated into gun battles in the main city of Abidjan.

    The post-election conflict has led rebels in the country's north to push south in the heaviest fighting since they tried to topple Gbagbo in a 2002-2003 civil war.

    In the wake of the urban warfare and western clashes, the United Nations has warned that the world's biggest cocoa-producing country risks slipping back into civil war.

    Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the escalating violence following November's disputed presidential election.

    'Cocoa control'

    Amid the violence, Gbagbo issued a decree on Monday under which the state will become the sole purchaser of cocoa in the world's top grower.

    "The export of products in the coffee and cocoa sector are to be carried out by the state, by those mandated by the state, or holders of an exporter's licence under terms determined by the decree," state television said.

    Ouattara had earlier called for a month-long ban on cocoa exports in an attempt to cut off a key revenue generator for Gbagbo, who refused to cede power in the face of mounting international pressure.

    Under the new Gbagbo decree, the state would purchase cocoa beans from farmers at a price determined by it and would then seek to get it to world markets, replacing the role of exporters who have widely followed a call by Ouattara to suspend supplies.

    Cocoa supplies have been strangled by a combination of sanctions and the near-collapse of the local banking system, jeopardising a lucrative source of revenues for Gbagbo, who needs to ensure payment of army and public sector salaries to remain in power.

    The mechanics of how Gbagbo's isolated government would get the cocoa beans to world markets were not immediately clear.

    The European Union had banned its ships from entering Ivorian ports. And a top US exporter of Ivorian beans, announced in January that it had suspended Ivorian exports, with most major suppliers following suit.

    The squeeze has meant that some 475,000 tonnes -- over a third of annual output -- of unexported cocoa beans are sitting at Ivorian ports, according to industry regulatory data released earlier on Monday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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