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Violent Ivory Coast standoff has killed 200 -US

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 23 Dec 2010 11:48 GMT
Author: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. Click For Restrictions. http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
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* U.S. says nearly 200 killed in violence so far

* Army spokesman says military united behind Gbagbo

* Gbagbo gov&${esc.hash}39;t tries to reassure on salaries

(Adds U.N. comment on deaths, paragraph 4)

By Tim Cocks and Laura MacInnis

ABIDJAN/GENEVA, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Nearly 200 people have been killed in Ivory Coast since last month&${esc.hash}39;s disputed election, according to the United States, as international pressure mounts for defiant leader Laurent Gbagbo to step down.

World powers and African states have thrown their support behind rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara in a violent standoff since the Nov. 28 election that threatens to tip the West African country back into civil war.

"We have credible reports that almost 200 people may have already been killed, with dozens more tortured or mistreated, and others may have been snatched from their homes in the middle of the night," U.S. ambassador Betty E. King told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday.

The U.N. later said it had substantiated allegations that at least 173 people were killed between Dec. 16 and 21, along with 90 people tortured and hundreds detained.

The United States, the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and West African bloc ECOWAS have all recognised provisional electoral commission results showing Ouattara as the winner of the poll.

But Gbagbo has shown no sign of caving to the pressure and insists he won the election after the Constitutional Court headed by one of his allies threw out hundreds of thousands of votes from pro-Ouattara constituencies.

The United States and the European Union have slapped travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, and the World Bank on Wednesday froze funding to the country, to which it has aid commitments of over ${esc.dollar}800 million.

Ministers from the central bank of the West African Monetary Union were due to meet Thursday in Guinea Bissau to discuss Ivory Coast amid speculation it could also freeze Ivory Coast funding -- a move that would hinder Gbagbo&${esc.hash}39;s ability to pay public wages, including to soldiers.

Ivory Coast&${esc.hash}39;s state-run newspaper said on Thursday that Gbagbo&${esc.hash}39;s signature was, for now, still being recognised on state accounts at the central bank and that public salaries would be paid this month.

"Since yesterday, the salaries of officials and agents of the state of Ivory Coast have been transferred into the different banks. Civil servants&${esc.hash}39; salaries are not threatened," it said quoting Gbagbo&${esc.hash}39;s finance minister.

The turmoil in the world&${esc.hash}39;s top cocoa-producing country has boosted cocoa prices to recent four-month highs , disrupting export registrations and raising the possibility that fighting could block transport and shipping.

ARMY UNITY

The election in the former regional star economy was meant to reunite the country following a 2002-03 civil war, but has instead aggravated divisions.

A spokesman for Ivory Coast&${esc.hash}39;s army said late on Wednesday that government troops stood united behind Gbagbo despite the growing pressure.

"There is no doubt about the cohesion as perfect brothers in arms of the security and defence forces," army spokesman Babri Gohourou said in an address on state TV.

Military support for Gbagbo is seen as one of the main reasons he is able to defy calls to step down.

The comment came hours after the prime minister of Ouattara&${esc.hash}39;s rival government, former rebel Guillaume Soro, said the "only solution" to the crisis was for world leaders to use force to oust him if other measures fail.

The standoff turned violent last week after gun battles broke out briefly between government soldiers and the rebels who now back Ouattara, and residents of pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods have said masked gunmen are now breaking into homes by night and kidnapping people.

Henri de Raincourt, French Minister in Charge of Cooperation, told Radio France International on Thursday that any military effort to oust Gbagbo would need to be led by African states.

"If something was to happen on this, it could only be on the initiative of the African countries themselves," he said.

The U.S. State Department said Washington was discussing moves to strengthen the 10,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast with former colonial power France and African states in a move that could add pressure on Gbagbo.

State TV announce that the Young Patriots, who have attacked French citizens and U.N. personnel before, were due to march through a middle class suburb of Abidjan on Thursday afternoon. (Additional reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey in Paris and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Giles Elgood)

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