ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara offered government posts on Monday to members of his rival Laurent Gbagbo’s cabinet, if Gbagbo stepped down.
It was the latest manoeuvre in a power struggle that has enveloped the West African state since an election that yielded two winners — Ouattara with international backing, and Gbagbo with the support of the nation’s top legal body and military.
The November 28 poll was meant to reunite the former regional economic star after a 2002-03 civil war, but analysts warned the dispute could now pit the army against pro-Ouattara rebels, who told Reuters they would defend themselves from any attack.
“If Laurent Gbagbo agrees to leave power quietly, the ministers from his party would be welcome in the government we plan to lead,” Guillaume Soro, Ivory Coast’s premier who has pledged to serve Ouattara, told France’s Europe 1 radio.
The political deadlock gripped the world’s top cocoa grower after the Constitutional Council — run by a Gbagbo ally — scrapped hundreds of thousands of votes from Ouattara strongholds, reversing provisional results from the election commission that had given Ouattara victory.
U.S. President Barack Obama has sided with Ouattara, leading calls from the United Nations, France, the European Union, the African Union and West African bloc ECOWAS that Gbagbo accept the election commission outcome. ECOWAS leaders are due to hold an emergency summit on Ivory Coast on Tuesday.
Gbagbo has scorned the international rejection as an affront to Ivorian sovereignty and has threatened to expel the U.N. Ivory Coast envoy for interference in internal affairs.
Citing a “breakdown of governance,” the World Bank and the African Development Bank said they would reassess aid, adding pressure on Gbagbo.
Ouattara has already named Gbagbo’s former finance minister, Charles Koffi Dibby, to his cabinet, a move which would strip Gbagbo of an official praised for his handling of debt talks. Dibby was not available to confirm he had switched sides.
The World Bank has tied the cancellation of $3 billion (1.9 billion pounds) of external debt, estimated at $12.5 billion, to smooth elections. But Gbagbo’s hand on the economy is strengthened by revenues from cocoa, oil and other commodities.
Benchmark ICE cocoa futures traded at a four-month high of $3,028 a tonne on Monday.
Several cocoa exporters suspended activities in the wake of election violence that has caused at least 15 deaths. But a regular industry estimate on Monday put port arrivals at around 427,000 tonnes in the season to December 5, only a few thousand tonnes less than at the same point last year.
Despite the political stand-off, Ivory Coast reopened international borders on Monday that had been sealed during a tense wait for the results, and traffic in the business district of the economic capital Abidjan was nearly back to normal.
“The international community has got to play a straight game otherwise it will be a mess in this country. Ouattara’s forming his government, Gbagbo’s forming his — where will it end?” said civil servant Maurice Fallet.
The army chief of staff has sworn allegiance to Gbagbo and troops appear to be on his side for now. Ouattara has the support of the New Forces rebels occupying the north.
“We’ve put our troops on alert,” New Forces spokesman Seydou Ouattara told Reuters.
“If we are attacked we will defend our zones and we will take the rest of the Ivorian territory,” he said, adding he hoped diplomacy would help the country avoid a “bloodbath.”
Mediation talks led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and the two rivals appeared to make no breakthrough on Sunday. It was unclear whether more talks would take place.
Gbagbo has controlled the country for a decade but now faces isolation and international sanctions. Diplomats said Russia, whose Lukoil is exploring for oil there, has blocked efforts in the U.N. Security Council for a clear endorsement of Ouattara.
The crisis in Ivory Coast, once West Africa’s brightest economic star, has forced up the risk premium on the country’s $2.3 billion Eurobond. It is currently yielding 11.67 percent, from below 10 percent before the election.
Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Tim Cocks in Abidjan, Peroshni Govender in Johannesburg, David Brough in London and Ange Aboa in Bouake; Writing by Richard Valdmanis and Mark John; editing by Tim Pearce