World Bank freezes Ivory Coast loans
The World Bank said it had frozen all loans to the Ivory Coast Wednesday, upping international pressure on the country's leadership after bitterly disputed elections.
Freezing active 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 elections, but Ouattara -- backed by the international community -- has been unable to force the incumbent Gbagbo to stand down.
The World Bank's move freezes a range of projects, from those improving the electricity system to emerging 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 dislodging 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 put down pro-Ouattara protests, often with deadly force.
Ouattara is currently bottled up in a hotel which is 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.
© 2010 AFP