EU freezes Ivory Coast port and bank assets

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The European Union today tightened sanctions against Ivory Coast's incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, freezing the assets of the country's main cocoa-exporting ports, the state oil firm and three banks.

The latest move in international efforts to persuade Gbagbo to step down after elections which he is widely believed to have lost, the EU list also included the state refiner SIR, the rubber sector body, SOGEPE energy utility and national broadcaster RTI.

The EU's Official Journal said the firms and utilities are "helping to fund the illegitimate government" of Gbagbo.

The EU first imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his backers in December after the November election that world powers and African neighbours say rival candidate Alassane Ouattara won. Gbagbo cites a Constitutional Council ruling that the results were rigged against him.

Broadcaster RTI was guilty of "public incitement to hatred and violence through participation in disinformation campaigns in connection with the 2010 presidential election", the EU Journal said.

"All funds and economic resources belonging to, owned, held or controlled by the natural or legal persons, entities and bodies ... shall be frozen," the journal said. The measures also ban funds being made available to listed people and bodies.

They also maintain an asset freeze and visa ban on Gbagbo and 84 of his supporters, including Gbagbo's wife, his ministers, heads of the armed forces, security staff and newspaper editors.

An EU spokesman said it is too early to gauge how Ivory Coast's economic activity would be affected by the sanctions.

Analysts say Gbagbo could hold out for several months before he feels full the pinch of international attempts to squeeze him financially, but they may still be the most effective tactic available to oust him.

Despite Western sanctions and a threat of force from African leaders if he does not quit, Gbagbo has defied international pressure to step down. The extended sanctions were initially agreed by the 27 EU states at the end of last month.

The United Nations human rights office said at least 247 people have been killed in violence in Ivory Coast since the disputed election.