ABIDJAN/ABUJA (Reuters) - West African regional bloc ECOWAS recognized Alassane Ouattara as Ivory Coast’s president -elect Tuesday after disputed elections, urging incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to accept defeat and step down.
But even before the 15-nation body issued its call, Gbagbo defied international demands for him to yield in the power struggle, naming a new cabinet even though Ouattara has already announced a parallel government.
After an emergency summit attended by regional heads of state in Nigeria, ECOWAS further increased pressure on Gbagbo by suspending Ivory Coast’s involvement in the group, which leads transport, finance and other projects.
Disagreement over the outcome of last month’s poll in the world’s top cocoa grower has raised the risk of renewed violence in a nation still divided in two by a 2002-3 war, prompting the United Nations to begin pulling out some staff.
Gbagbo was sworn in as president last week and appointed the new government, defying calls from the United Nations, the United States, France and others for him to accept provisional results of the November 28 poll that made Ouattara the clear winner.
“The heads of state and government recognized Mr Alassane Dramane Ouattara as president-elect of Ivory Coast,” ECOWAS leaders said in a communique issued after an emergency meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja.
“The summit called on Mr Laurent Gbagbo to abide by the results of the second round of the presidential elections as certified by UNOCI (the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast) and to yield power without delay,” it said.
Gbagbo, who has kept control of the army and state television, has dismissed calls on him to quit as meddling and Tuesday held a first cabinet meeting with his new government.
However, the line-up was missing Charles Koffi Diby, the former finance minister who handled past talks on $3 billion (1 billion pounds) debt relief with the IMF and World Bank and was one of the few members of the team with an international reputation.
Speculation grew this week that he had defected after former IMF official Ouattara named him in a rival government line-up. But Diby has not confirmed his appointment and failed to turn up to the first meeting of his parallel cabinet Monday.
Clashes with security forces and between rival supporters have left at least 28 dead and 280 wounded since November 26, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, with some observers fearing the real toll is double that.
Cocoa futures have spiked to four-month highs on concerns of supply bottlenecks, with the second-month contract up over 1.5 percent at $3,140 per tonne during Tuesday trade.
Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion Eurobond, a bellwether of investor mood, has seen its yield rise above 12 percent from pre-vote levels of below 10 percent. Emerging markets fund Exotix downgraded it to “sell” from “hold.”
The United Nations, which has about 10,000 peacekeepers in the country, said it was withdrawing around 600 non-military staff to Gambia and Senegal, citing growing tensions.
“It is a provisional relocation of non-essential staff ... It is temporary,” UN mission spokesman Hamadoun Toure said.
Despite the post-election violence and the risk that the row could re-ignite the conflict that has left the country divided into the government-controlled south and rebel-held north, Ivorians have tried to push on with life as normal.
Once the showpiece of West Africa, Ivory Coast’s leafy, tropical main city of Abidjan was calm Tuesday, its wide boulevards humming with traffic and impatient hooting as normal.
“We’ve been in crisis many years, so it’s nothing new,” said lawyer Herman Dirabou, as he queued to pay his phone bill next to a women frying yams on a sandy pavement. “Maybe with two presidents we’ll get twice as much done,” he joked, before adding: “I hope they can find a way out of this.”
The Constitutional Council, headed by a staunch Gbagbo ally, overruled the electoral commission, cancelling hundreds of thousands of votes in Ouattara strongholds, alleging fraud.
But the United Nations has said that even without the annulled votes, Ouattara still had enough support to win.
Additional reporting by Tim Cocks; Writing by Mark John and Tim Cocks; Editing by David Stamp