ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Most workers in Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan ignored a call by presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara for a strike on Monday to force Laurent Gbagbo out of power, saying they must work in order to survive.
Operations at the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro, through which much of Ivory Coast’s cocoa exports are shipped, were normal on Monday morning. Abidjan’s downtown Plateaux business district was bustling, with shops and offices open.
In the rebel-controlled northern city of Bouake, a bastion of support for Ouattara, some shop owners heeded the strike though banks and public transport were functioning.
The world’s top cocoa producing country has faced an impasse since a disputed election last month led to violence that has killed over 170 people, according to the United Nations, and reopened the wounds of a 2002-2003 civil war.
The United States, European Union, United Nations, African Union, and West African bloc ECOWAS have all thrown their support behind Ouattara after provisional elections results showed he won by an 8 point margin.
“Everyone is at work this morning,” said a director at a cocoa export firm in the western port of San Pedro.
“It is true that the country is still in a difficult position politically, but we try to do what we can. Cocoa has been available in large quantities for some time and our objective is to export it as best we can,” he said, asking not to be named.
The turmoil has sent cocoa futures to four-month highs, while the country’s Eurobond has dipped to a record low on concern that the government will miss a $30 million bond payment on December 31.
However, cocoa exporters said volumes of cocoa arriving at ports had exceeded levels last year despite the crisis.
“Ivorians live on a day-to-day basis. To ask us not to work is to ask us not to eat. For civil servants it might not be a problem, but for us ... it is a real problem,” said Ebrotie Assomou Jean, a trader in Abidjan’s Cocody district.
International pressure has piled on Gbagbo to step down since the November 28 election, though he has shown no sign of caving in and insists he won after the nation’s top court— run by one of his allies — threw out hundreds of thousands of Ouattara votes citing fraud.
A similar call for civil disobedience last week by Ouattara’s rival government was not largely followed. But at least 20 people died when Ouattara supporters tried to seize the state broadcaster and clashed with government soldiers.
Ouattara supporters in Paris said they had occupied the Ivorian embassy there on Monday, calling for the internationally isolated Gbagbo to step aside.
Three west African heads of state, sent by ECOWAS, are scheduled to arrive in Abidjan on Tuesday to urge Gbagbo to quit. ECOWAS has threatened to use force if he does not relinquish power.
The African Union on Monday backed the regional effort and the mission to end the crisis. It said in a statement it had asked Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga to “follow through the situation.”
In an interview with France’s Le Figaro newspaper on Sunday, Gbagbo said he was not worried by the ECOWAS threat to remove him by force.
“All threats must be taken seriously. But it would be the first time that African countries were willing to go to war against another country because an election went wrong,” Gbagbo said.
He also said he was a victim of an international plot by France and the United States.
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero dismissed the accusations as baseless.
“These accusations are groundless and should not serve as a distraction from the position taken by the international community in its entirety, notably the United Nations. ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union and IMF,” Valero said.
The United States and EU have imposed travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the West African regional central bank have cut off his finances, which means he may soon have trouble paying troops.
(Additional reporting by Charles Bamba in Bouake and Brian Love in Paris)
Editing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Angus MacSwan