The World Bank says it has frozen financing for Ivory Coast, where incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo is clinging to power in the face of global criticism. The move increases the pressure on Mr. Gbagbo to hand power to rival Alassane Outtara, the internationally-recognized winner of last month's presidential election. At the same time, France and Germany are asking their citizens to leave the West African nation, amid U.N. concerns of a return to civil war. Mariama Diallo has more.
The bank said it is asking others to also freeze financing for the country.
"In addition I discussed the fact that we had discussed with President Toure the need for the Central Bank, with WAMU - the West African Monetary Authority - to also freeze the loans, which they have done. And they are also convening a meeting of ministers this week to affirm and strengthen that approach," said World Bank President Robert Zoellick after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.
In his first televised appearance since the much disputed November 28 elections, Gbagbo accused the international community of ulterior motives in its support of Ouattara. "They want to relieve the Ivorian people of their sovereign right to choose their direction and their right to live freely in the country," he said.
Mr. Gbagbo said he does not want more bloodshed in his country.
The Economic Community of West African States also issued a statement Wednesday calling on Mr. Gbagbo to step aside immediately. And in Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the certified results show that Ouattara is the clear winner. "President Gbabgo must accept the result of the elections, and from our standpoint, this is not negotiable," the spokesman said.
The United Nations and much of the international community also maintain that Gbagbo lost the election. Even though Gbagbo ordered U.N. and French troops to leave his country last week, the U.N. has refused to do so. And a Security Council resolution adopted unanimously on Monday extended the force's mandate until June of next year.
On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said the situation could become critical within days, and warned of false information about the U.N. forces being spread by Ivorian state media.
The U.N. reports that more than 50 people have died in recent days, and that hundreds of others have been abducted from their homes.
"We've been in contact with families of those who've been abducted. People in the neighborhoods where people are taken at night have been saying that security forces are coming in and firing in the air," said Matt Wells, with Human Rights Watch:
Wells said there are also reports that Ivorians are fleeing to the neighboring country of Liberia.
In the meantime, the U.N. Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain LeRoy, says there are reports of mercenaries entering the country.
"We have been able to confirm the presence of mercenaries. ... people not speaking the local language and probably from Liberia, or maybe also some from Angola. So they were mercenaries clearly used to attack, to provoke the civilian population and ONUCI personnel," he said.
Gbagbo has ruled the country since 2000. His term officially ended in 2005 but he remained in office through repeated election delays.