US bars financial dealings with Gbagbo
Abidjan - The US Treasury Department on Thursday barred US citizens from financial dealings with Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo until he steps down, while his rival guaranteed his safety if he goes.
The US sanctions are the latest bid by world powers to convince Gbagbo, who has ruled for more than a decade, to cede power to rival Alassane Ouattara, widely believed to have won a November 28 election. The standoff has killed more than 200 people and could restart a civil war.
"Today's designation will isolate him and his inner circle from the world's financial system and underscore the desire of the international community that he step down," said Adam Szubin, director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Ouattara, who has repeatedly called for force to oust Gbagbo, said on Thursday Gbagbo had "blood on his hands" for post-election violence but would still be offered a guarantee of safety if he steps aside.
"He has to go. I am ready to guarantee him safety ... and numerous advantages," Ouattara said in his headquarters, a lagoon-side hotel protected by hundreds of UN soldiers and under blockade by pro-Gbagbo military.
'People are being assassinated'
He did not say what he meant by "advantages", but previous offers have included immunity, exile and financial guarantees.
"Every night, people are being assassinated, women are being raped, by militias ... mercenaries are killing Ivorians."
None of Gbagbo's senior aides were available for comment.
A spokesperson for Gbagbo's government announced on state TV that Britain's and Canada's ambassadors to Ivory Coast would have their accreditation removed, in retaliation for their de-recognising of his ambassadors.
The UN General Assembly last month agreed to recognise only ambassadors appointed by Ouattara.
The firebrand head of Gbagbo's youth wing, which can wreak havoc in Abidjan with violent protests, called on his supporters to stay calm and let diplomacy resolve the turmoil. Gbagbo followers would resist a threatened military intervention by neighbouring states from the regional body Eocwas, he added.
"Diplomacy is under way so let's see what comes of it but if Ecowas chooses the military option, we will reconsider."
Gbagbo has ordered UN forces out of the country. The world body, which has 10 000 soldiers and police in Ivory Coast and has urged Gbagbo to leave, rejected Gbagbo's order and called on Wednesday for an extra 1 000-2 000 peacekeepers.
US envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice said the UN Security Council should consider expanding sanctions.
Ouattara earlier told Europe 1 radio he had proof Gbagbo had "blood on his hands" and he wanted the International Criminal Court to intervene. The Hague-based court says it is monitoring the situation.
Simon Munzu, the head of the human rights division in the UN mission, said the real number of dead since the standoff was likely to be higher. "We want the international community to do everything it can to put a stop to this violence," he said.
Reports of mass graves
There are reports of at least two mass graves in Ivory Coast but investigators have been blocked from accessing them by masked pro-Gbagbo gunmen, the United Nations says.
The United Nations said the confirmed death toll from the violence had risen to 210 and condemned the blocking of investigators probing reports of killings since the poll.
US Treasury's Szubin said Gbagbo shows "disregard for the will and well-being" of Ivorians. US citizens are barred from dealing with him, and his assets on US soil will be seized.
The ban covered his wife, Simone, and advisers Desire Tagro, Pascal Affi N'Guessan and Alcide Djedje. None could be reached for comment.
Ecowas has sent presidents of nearby states to persuade Gbagbo to leave. They have said Gbagbo could be driven out by force, although many in the region are doubtful the neighbours would carry out such a threat.
In an effort to win support at the African Union, which has suspended Ivory Coast until he steps down, Gbagbo sent an envoy to meet Zimbabwe's acting president John Nkomo, in charge while Robert Mugabe is on holiday, a Zimbabwean official told Reuters.
Like Gbagbo, Mugabe has often dismissed Western pressure for democracy as a neo-imperialist assault on African sovereignty.
Ouattara told the news conference a recount proposed by Gbagbo was out of the question and Ecowas had a duty to carry out its threat if Gbagbo did not step down by January's end.
However, any such operation would be highly complex and is littered with logistical or political obstacles.
Gbagbo controls the armed forces, but has been spurned by West Africa's central bank, which may soon make it hard for him to pay troops. The country's main export earner is cocoa, of which it is the world's top grower, which he can still tax.