Ivory Coast: Ouattara wants EU sanctions lifted

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Ivory Coast's internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara has urged the EU to lift sanctions, in a bid to restart the ailing economy.

Mr Ouattara now controls the main cocoa-exporting port of San Pedro, and wants to restart the trade.

But his troops are still not in control of all of the main city Abidjan, where his rival Laurent Gbagbo remains holed up in the presidential residence.

Aid agencies are warning of a deepening humanitarian crisis in Abidjan.

Residents of the city are without basic amenities such as running water and power, and food supplies are running low.

Witnesses say bodies are lying on the streets after days of bitter fighting between loyalists of the two presidential claimants.

'Question of principle'

Mr Ouattara, widely recognised as the winner of a presidential election last November, told Ivorian TV he was taking measures to get the economy back up and running.

"I have asked that European Union sanctions on the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro and certain public entities, be lifted," he said.

Ivory Coast is the world's biggest cocoa-producing nation, but uncertainty and violence since the disputed election has badly damaged the industry.

Mr Ouattara said the central bank would begin reopening its branches, and the army would secure delivery of medical supplies to hospitals and food to markets.

He blamed Mr Gbagbo for plunging the country into crisis, but said his forces now had the presidential palace under blockade.

Advisers to Mr Gbagbo, who insists he won the election, say the embattled incumbent is determined not to surrender.

"President Gbagbo will not cede," said his Paris-based adviser Toussaint Alain.

"It's a question of principle. President Gbagbo is not a monarch. He is not a king. He is not an emperor. He is a president elected by his people."

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said Mr Gbagbo had fewer than 1,000 troops left loyal to him.

Divided nation

Mr Ouattara's forces launched a sustained offensive last month, rushing southwards from their northern strongholds.

They rapidly took over most of the country, but much of Abidjan is dominated by Gbagbo supporters, and days of fighting has now plunged the city into crisis.

"There are armed rebel groups who don't know which side they are on looting not only private houses but also some stocks of humanitarian agencies - that is unacceptable," said the UN's Elisabeth Byrs.

Last November's election had been intended to reunite the former French colony, which split in two following a northern rebellion in 2002.

But the result highlighted the divide in the country, with Mr Gbagbo dominating the south and Mr Ouattara winning most of the votes in the north.

As the crisis deepened in the past week, the UN and French forces have joined the battle for Abidjan.

On Monday, they launched air strikes on pro-Gbagbo military bases, after Mr Gbagbo's forces were accused of using heavy weapons to attack civilians and UN peacekeepers.

The UN has repeatedly called for Mr Gbagbo to step down.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court says it will investigate alleged human rights abuses by both sides during the fighting, which has left hundreds dead.

In his TV address, Mr Ouattara promised to punish the perpetrators of violence.

"On behalf of you all I would therefore like to express our recognition to the Republican forces of Cote d'Ivoire for having done their duty," he said.

"I urge them to be exemplary in their conduct and to refrain from any crimes, any violence against the people or any act of looting. All those involved in such deeds will be punished."

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