ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo will find ways to sidestep economic sanctions aimed at removing him from power, his government said on Sunday after West African leaders moved to sever his funds from the regional central bank.
Spokesman Ahoua Don Mello, who also called threats of regional military intervention a “bluff”, said the former French colony’s new partners in Asia, Latin America and Africa would help it find alternative ways to deposit and access funds in order to maintain trade, tax collection and salary payments.
Gbagbo is locked in a power struggle with rival Alassane Ouattara, who was declared winner of a November 28 election by United Nations-certified results before they were overturned by a pro-Gbagbo legal body, which alleged fraud.
In the wake of European Union sanctions on Gbagbo’s camp and state institutions supporting him, West African leaders tightened the screws on Saturday by removing the head of the regional central bank, a Gbagbo ally who had safeguarded his access to funds.
“Isolation cannot work ... Those who think that Ivory Coast will be isolated are those who think that (we) have no choice but to operate with them,” Don Mello said.
Don Mello said that there was no shortage of ships, and vessels from Asia and elsewhere would replace the European-registered ones now banned from shipping cocoa from Ivory Coast, the world’s top grower.
Meanwhile, he said businesses were still paying taxes and revenues collected would be deposited in accounts elsewhere. He mentioned Asia, Latin America and emerging African nations as potential partners, but refused to name countries.
“We have long anticipated all possible decisions ... The proof is that the salaries have already been paid,” he added.
Over the weekend, state television broadcast messages telling civil servants to collect their salaries on Monday.
Ouattara’s camp, which complains up to $200 million has been withdrawn illegally from the central bank, said that the move by regional leaders was a positive step but the pro-Gbagbo head of the bank’s office in Abidjan must now also be replaced.
In the face of regional pressure on Gbagbo to cede power, there has been speculation that his government might withdraw from the West African monetary union, UEMOA.
“For now we have not taken an official decision over whether or not we will stay in the UEMOA,” Don Mello said, adding that the bloc’s currency, the CFA, could not survive without Ivory Coast, the region’s largest economy.
While Ouattara has received almost unanimous world backing, he remains holed up in a lagoon-side hotel, protected by a ring of U.N. peacekeepers. Gbagbo retains the support of the military and most state institutions. The two men have named rival governments to run the country.
After meetings in Mali this week, regional military leaders said they were ready implement a threat by West African body ECOWAS to oust Gbagbo by force.
Analysts say that the logistical challenges of mounting such an operation would be considerable, even if the political decision is taken to do so.
“It is bluff ... legally no foreign army can attack Ivory Coast,” Don Mello said, warning that any such force would face the “hurricane” of the population if it came to the country.
“Instead of bringing the tanks ... instead of counting the dead, let’s count the ballot papers,” he said, repeating Gbagbo’s desire for a recount of votes to resolve the standoff.