March 9, 2011 / 11:41 AM / 7 years ago

UK: Gbagbo cocoa nationalisation "a desperate act"

* Cocoa future breaks through 30-year highs

* Calls on Gbagbo to “leave with dignity”

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA, March 9 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo’s move to nationalise the country’s cocoa industry indicates his growing desperation, a British official said on Wednesday.

Ivory Coast state television reported on Monday that Gbagbo had issued a decree under which the state becomes the sole purchaser of cocoa in the world’s top grower and handles its export to world markets.

“I think the nationalisation of the cocoa industry is a bad step for Mr. Gbagbo,” Tim Hitchens, the Foreign Office’s director for Africa, told Reuters in Addis Ababa.

“It’s an act of desperation and I think it’s very clear ... that a noose is tightening around the leadership in Abidjan,” Hitchens added.

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday taking the cocoa sector into state hands “amounts to theft.”

Cocoa futures have broken 30-year highs since a disputed election in November that has triggered a power struggle between Gbagbo and rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara, judged by the United Nations to have won.

Demonstrations were held in various parts of Abidjan on Tuesday, a week after Gbagbo’s forces shot dead seven women at an all-female march in Abobo, a neighbourhood that has backed Ouattara.

Hitchens called on Gbagbo to “leave with dignity”.

“The killing of female demonstrators last week ... that kind of thing must not be allowed to happen again. There is a peaceful way out of this, but it is in the hands of Mr. Gbagbo,” he said.

Western powers have warned Gbagbo he may face criminal investigation for crushing attempts at protest, although his military argues it has no choice because pro-Ouattara protesters are often armed and violent.

Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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