February 15, 2011 / 5:47 PM / in 8 years

UPDATE 2-West Africa bourse shuts on security fears

* Suspension effective from Feb. 16

* Bourse trades Sonatel, Onatel and others

(Adds regional regulator relocating)

By Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN, Feb 15 (Reuters) - West Africa’s BRVM bourse said it would suspend operations at its seat in Ivory Coast from Wednesday, citing security concerns a week after soldiers loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo invaded its offices.

The bourse trades shares in nearly 40 companies in eight countries, including Senegalese telecoms firm Sonatel, Burkina Faso’s main telecoms operator Onatel, and Unilever’s Ivory Coast affiliate.

“The administration of the BRVM (bourse) ... has decided, starting from Feb. 16, to suspend until further notice its activities at its Abidjan headquarters,” the statement by BRVM president Tiemoko Yade Coulibaly said.

The West African nation has been in turmoil since the disputed result of a Nov. 28 presidential election between incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara, with both men setting up parallel governments.

Ouattara is the winner according to U.N.-certified results, but Gbagbo has refused to step down and is backed by the military. Two international banks closed on Monday, citing problems operating here.

The stock exchange was forced to close for a day last Wednesday, when forces loyal to Gbagbo invaded its offices. Gbagbo’s finance minister Desire Dallo said they were sent to prevent it from trying to relocate elsewhere, upon hearing reports that it might do so.

“The administration has issued the strongest protest against the acts committed by agents of the Ministry of Finance ... in violation of agreements signed,” the BRVM statement said.

In a further sign of disruption to the West African financial system, the CREPMF, a body that regulates financial markets in the West African CFA franc zone, said it was also closing its Abidjan office after it was occupied by soldiers.

Operations would continue, as normal, from offices in Togo, the body said in a statement on Tuesday. (Additional reporting by Mathieu Bonkoungou in Ouagadougou; editing by David Lewis and Mark Heinrich)

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