Ivory Coast cocoa farmers protest at EU sanctions

Image caption,
The farmers say the EU is being manipulated by France

Hundreds of Ivory Coast cocoa farmers have burned sacks of beans in protest at EU sanctions intended to force Laurent Gbagbo from power.

The EU, like the UN and the African Union, recognises Alassane Ouattara as the rightful winner of November's election.

Financial sanctions have been imposed on institutions seen as backing Mr Gbagbo.

The country's largest bank has ceased trading - the fifth this week.

French bank Societe Generale said it was shutting down its Ivorian subsidiary SGBCI because it is "no longer able to ensure the short term supply of currency/cash to our branches".

There have been long queues of people outside banks in the main city Abidjan this week after the other banks shut down.

Ivory Coast is part of the eight-country West African CFA monetary zone, with a single central bank based in Dakar, Senegal, which has refused to deal with Mr Gbagbo's administration.

Diplomats hope that Mr Gbagbo will have no option but to stand down if he is no longer able to pay civil servants, especially members of the security forces.

"We reject EU sanctions on our cocoa because we are not involved in politics," Blehoue Aka, president of the planters' association, said at the protest outside the EU headquarters in Abidjan.

"We are growers and without cocoa, we and our families risk dying," he said as he delivered a letter of protest, reports the Reuters news agency.

Ivory Coast is the biggest cocoa producer in the world and the price of cocoa has been trading at its highest levels for a year.

Exporters have stopped registering new beans for export as a result of the sanctions, as well as a ban called for by Mr Ouattara.

The UN-backed electoral commission says Mr Ouattara won November's election but the Constitutional Council overruled it, citing rigging in the north, controlled by rebels who support Mr Ouattara.

The long-delayed elections had been supposed to reunify the country - once the richest in West Africa - which has been divided since a 2002 civil war.

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