World Bank freezes Ivory Coast loans

AFP, Thursday 23 Dec 2010

Decision by the World Bank is the next step by the international community to force Laurent Gbagbo to step aside

The World Bank announced on Wednesday that is has frozen all loans to the Ivory Coast, increasing international pressure on the country's leadership after its bitterly disputed elections.

Freezing current projects worth over 800 million dollars, World Bank president Robert Zoellick announced the move following talks in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. In Washington, the bank later confirmed it "has currently stopped lending and disbursing funds to the Ivory Coast," adding "the World Bank's office in the Ivory Coast has been closed."

Tensions are high in the west African nation amid a deadly political stand-off between rival presidential candidates Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. Both claim to have won November’s elections, but Ouattara - backed by the international community - has been unable to force the incumbent Gbagbo to stand down.

The World Bank's move will result in a range of projects being frozen, from those improving the electricity system to providing aid to conflict-scarred communities, according to the institution's website.

It is the latest in a series of steps by the international community - including visa bans and assets freezes --aimed at forcing out Gbagbo.

Zoellick indicated more actions are in the pipeline. The former deputy US secretary of state said he had been in talks with the head of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WEMU), President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali.

"(I have)... discussed with President Toure the need for the central banks with WEMU to also freeze the loans, which they have done," Zoellick said, referring to the grouping of eight west African states. "They are also convening a meeting of ministers this week to affirm and strengthen this approach."

The stakes have ratcheted-up dramatically since the November poll, with Gbagbo deploying his loyalist armed forces to quell pro-Ouattara protests, often with deadly force. Ouattara is currently holed up in a hotel protected by 800 UN peacekeeping troops.

Zoellick said African leaders must take the lead in solving the crisis.

"For other countries in Africa, including Mali, Cote d'Ivoire is a critical economic partner," Zoellick said of the world's largest cocoa producer. "So we at the bank are working with the African Development bank to follow the lead of the ECOWAS countries because they have a huge amount at stake, economically as well as democratically."

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States has already suspended Ivory Coast as a member and is on Friday to hold an emergency summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja on the crisis.

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