ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — The man who refuses to concede defeat after Ivory Coast’s presidential election faced two major setbacks Friday as officials cut off his access to the state funds used to pay soldiers and state television remained off the air in much of the country.
The attempts by internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara to assert his control over state institutions comes amid rising fears that the West African nation once gripped by a 2002-2003 civil war could return to widespread unrest. Already the United Nations has said at least 173 people have been killed.
Late Thursday, the 192-nation U.N. General Assembly formally recognized Ouattara as the winner of the Nov. 28 runoff vote and rescinded the credentials of Ivory Coast’s U.N. ambassador who is a Gbagbo supporter.
Ouattara’s allies hope the move by the West African economic and monetary union late Thursday will set the stage for mass defections if incumbent Laurent Gbagbo cannot pay civil servants and soldiers in the military that he still controls.
Officials with the regional monetary union made the announcement after an emergency session, and later said in a statement that only representatives of Ouattara’s government will have signing privileges on state accounts. The regional bank, known by its acronym BCEAO, regroups the treasuries of eight West African countries.
There has been much speculation in recent days as to whether Gbagbo would be able to pay state salaries, despite nightly assurances on state television that the paychecks would be available before Christmas.
On Thursday morning, several banks in downtown Abidjan posted notices in their windows saying that they would not be cashing civil servant paychecks because they hadn’t received a guarantee from the government that they would be reimbursed.
Lines of impatient civil servants formed outside the banks, but just after noon the notices were removed and one by one people started receiving their money.
While Ouattara has the backing of the international community, Gbagbo still controls the country’s military and also had dominated state media until late Thursday. Gbagbo-controlled state television was yanked from the air though in most cities outside Abidjan and remained off the air Friday.
It was not immediately clear how the signal was cut off. Advisers to Ouattara refused to comment, but the event falls in line with a series of strategies Ouattara has been employing to try to break Gbagbo’s stranglehold on the news.
A week ago, Ouattara’s supporters unsuccessfully attempted to seize control of the channel. State TV had run continuous footage of Gbagbo taking the oath of office in the days after he declared victory without mentioning that his claim was heavily contested.
The U.N. Human Rights Council, meanwhile, adopted a resolution late Thursday calling for an end to the violence in Ivory Coast. The U.N. deputy human rights commissioner in Geneva, Kyung-wha Kang, told diplomats that the death toll may even be higher than 173 people.
“Unfortunately it has been impossible to investigate all the allegations of serious human rights violations, including reports of mass graves, due to restrictions on movement by U.N. personnel,” Kyung-wha said. “Indeed, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General was stopped at gunpoint as he sought to verify such allegations.”
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that forces loyal to Gbagbo, supported by masked men armed with rocket launchers, were blocking the road to a village outside Abidjan “where allegations point to the existence of a mass grave.”
Gbagbo ordered all U.N. peacekeepers out of the country immediately, but the U.N. considers Ouattara president and has stayed. There are fears that U.N. personnel and other foreigners could be targeted as tensions mount.
Charles Ble Goude, Gbagbo’s minister of youth, has called for demonstrations next Wednesday. Goude is the subject of a 2006 United Nations sanction for his role in inciting the Young Patriots, a pro-Gbagbo group that has led violent attacks against foreigners in the past, especially French citizens.
The U.S. State Department has ordered most of its personnel to leave because of the deteriorating security situation and growing anti-Western sentiment. France and Germany also have recommended that their citizens leave.
Ivory Coast was once an economic hub because of its role as the world’s top cocoa producer. The 2002-2003 civil war split the country into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south. While the country officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal, Ouattara draws his support from the northern half of the country, where he was born, while Gbagbo’s power base is in the south.
Gbagbo claimed victory in the presidential election only after his allies threw out half a million ballots from Ouattara strongholds in the north, a move that infuriated residents there who have long felt that they are treated as foreigners in their own country by southerners.
Associated Press writer Sadibou Marone in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report