Bloody post-election deadlock in Ivory Coast washed into the halls of West Africa's central bank on Friday, where rival presidents see control of state funds as a key to victory in a battle that has cost hundreds of lives.

An ally of Alassane Ouattara, the challenger regarded by international powers as the winner of the November 28 presidential election, complained at the bank's headquarters in Senegal that the encumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, was still receiving funds on a daily basis as, backed by the army, he refuses to step down.

Ouattara, who is living besieged in the main port of Abidjan under the protection of U.N. peacekeepers, has pinned hopes on international economic sanctions and financial controls to weaken Gbagbo's hold on military loyalties and freeze him out.

The European Union on Friday formally approved toughened visa bans and asset freezes on Gbagbo and leading supporters.

But on a day when the United Nations raised its estimate of the death toll since the election seven weeks ago to at least 247, up 37 in the past week, Ouattara's planning minister visited the regional central bank, the BCEAO, in Dakar and complained of daily withdrawals from Ivory Coast's account.

Toikeusse Mabri said 78 billion CFA francs $160 million (100 million pounds) had been withdrawn between December 24 and January 12, even though the bank has noted international recognition of Ouattara as the legitimate president of the country.

Mabri suggested said that Gbagbo's security forces were putting pressure on employees at the BCEAO branch in Abidjan to pay out. The bank, which serves eight mainly former French colonies, is headed by an Ivorian seen as a Gbagbo ally.

The bank refused to comment on the accusations.

Confusion has reigned about the state of the finances of the world's top cocoa grower since the election, but Gbagbo's administration has sought to reassure international investors it intends to honour overdue interest on a $2.3 billion Eurobond.

A Gbagbo government spokesman said he was doing all it can to find funds to meet its debt obligations, but creditors should recognise him as president if they want payment.


The United Nations has complained its peacekeepers are being targeted increasingly by Gbagbo supporters. A number of U.N. vehicles were torched on Thursday. A U.N. ambulance was attacked and the doctor and patient inside injured.

The world body suspects many of those Ivorians who have died were killed by security forces or their allied militias in night raids on pro-Ouattara areas. Officials say hundreds of others may have been abducted and taken to secret detention centres.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told reporters in Geneva in Friday that at least 49 people were unaccounted for, including 20 reported as disappearing in the past week.

Gbagbo's government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello denied charges his security forces were involved in violence. This isn't possible. We are against all forms of violence, he said.