December 9, 2010 / 2:55 AM / in 8 years

African Union suspends Ivory Coast over poll row

ADDIS ABABA/ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The African Union suspended Ivory Coast on Thursday until President Laurent Gbagbo hands over power to Alassane Ouattara, whom the AU and United Nations consider the winner of last month’s election.

An Ivorian farmer stands in his cocoa farm in Bangolo, western Ivory Coast October 15, 2010. REUTERS/Luc Gnago

The United States also added to worldwide pressure on Gbagbo by saying it would consider sanctions against his family.

The pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council declared him the winner of the election — supposed to draw a line under eight years of division between the north and south — despite provisional results showing he had lost by nearly 10 percent.

The council, run by a Gbagbo ally, annulled hundreds of thousands of votes in pro-Ouattara areas, alleging intimidation.

With Ouattara also claiming the presidency and naming a government in a U.N.-guarded hotel in the main city Abidjan, confusion over who is in charge is fuelling fears of violence.

Ivory Coast was torn apart by a 2002-2003 civil war, and at least 28 people have already died in election-related violence.

The turmoil also threatens to cut Ivory Coast’s lifeline, its world-leading cocoa production, by blocking the export of tens of thousands of tones to world markets.

SUSPENSION

The African Union’s peace and security commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, said in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa that the AU had suspended Ivory Coast “until such time as Mr Ouattara, a democratically elected president, takes over effectively”.

Johnnie Carson, State Department assistant secretary for African Affairs, said Washington was willing to declare sanctions against “President Gbagbo, his family, his wife and those that are supporting his illegal position”.

“The era of stealing elections is over,” Carson said.

The U.N. Security Council and the West African economic community ECOWAS have also recognized Ouattara as the winner.

Gbagbo accused Ouattara of breaking the law.

“It makes a mess when you don’t respect the rules,” he said, at a village. “It is rules that distinguish us from animals.”

United Nations peacekeepers in armored vehicles are protecting Ouattara and on Thursday were installing generators, indicating deepening support for the parallel government.

Ouattara’s camp accused Gbagbo of an institutional coup d’etat and said they were being patient in order to save lives.

“The government calls on all civil servants ... to stop all work with Laurent Gbagbo’s illegitimate government,” Patrick Achi, a spokesman for Ouattara’s government, told journalists.

But army chief of staff General Phillippe Mangou reiterated a pledge to take orders from Gbagbo’s defense minister.

“We are at your disposal,” he said at a review of troops.

Gbagbo’s camp rejects what it calls meddling by foreigner.

“It’s not for ECOWAS to decide who is winner of an election in Ivory Coast,” said Gbagbo’s Foreign Minister Alcide Djedje.

Ouattara has named rival heads of the cocoa regulator and customs, sowing confusion. Cocoa makes a third of the economy.

“We are working with fear in our belly ... We don’t even know who should be signing the export papers,” said one exporter, adding he feared reprisals for backing the wrong team.

STREET LIFE REVIVES

Despite the crisis, life in Abidjan has returned to a semblance of normality, and traffic along the palm-lined roads leading to its once-gleaming business district is near gridlock.

In the north’s Bouake, whose rotting buildings bear scars of the war that left it in rebel hands, hawkers filled the streets.

The U.N. Security Council repeated a threat to impose “targeted measures” — code for sanctions.

Possible outcomes range from one rival throwing in the towel — not seen as likely — to a drift back into conflict and de facto partition, with Gbagbo holding sway in the south and Ouattara backed by rebels who still hold the north.

Talks on a unity government such as the one in Kenya after its disputed 2007 poll are possibile. ECOWAS has advised against this, as it may encourage other incumbents to cling to power.

All bets are off on Ivory Coast’s dream of regaining its place as one of the region’s economic stars — a status coveted by neighbor Ghana, which pumps its first oil from next week.

Ivory Coast's incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo (L) stands with Gilbert Ake as Ake is announced as prime minister in Cocody, Abidjan December 6, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

Just 16,174 tonnes of cocoa were declared to the cocoa marketing body in the week of the election, meaning up to 60,000 tonnes or $180 million worth were sitting in port waiting for the body to reopen. Cocoa prices are at four-month highs.

The yield demanded by investors to buy Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion Eurobond has shot up nearly four percentage points to 13 percent. Ghana’s $750 million Eurobond is trading with a yield of just 6 percent. (Additional reporting by Ange Aboa in Bouake, David Lewis and Tim Cocks in Abidjan, Mabvuto Banda in Lilongwe and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; Writing by Mark John and Tim Cocks; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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