Ivory Coast: Banks reopen after 10-week shutdown

People queue outside a bank in Abidjan, 28 April, 2011
Image caption Ivory Coast once enjoyed the highest living standards in West Africa

Thousands of Ivorians have queued to withdraw money and receive delayed salaries as Ivory Coast's banks reopen after a 10-week shutdown.

The closure of banks followed ex-President Laurent Gbagbo's attempt to stay in power after disputed elections.

The reopening of the banking system is a step towards restarting the economy of the world's biggest cocoa producer.

New President Alassane Ouattara's government has promised two months-worth of public sector salaries.

Ivorians were given little warning when the banks closed in February, leaving thousands struggling to survive without salaries, pensions and savings.

One client queuing outside a bank in the main city, Abidjan, said he had been waiting since early morning to withdraw enough money to feed his household.

"I'll take care of my family who have suffered for at least two months without much to eat. I'll take care of the children and their return to school," he said.

The formal business sector has also been unable to function and the country's main export, cocoa, remains blocked.

Though sanctions have been lifted, exporters need access to their bank accounts before they can pay customs duties, says BBC's John James in the city.

Militia leader killed

Ex-President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to step down after November's elections prompted the West African central bank, which administers the currency union to which Ivory Coast belongs, to close its offices in the country.

International financial and trade sanctions were also put in place.

Earlier this week, the government attempted to reopen schools but most students and many teachers did not turn up.

On Wednesday, one of Ivory Coast's most notorious militia leaders, Ibrahim "IB" Coulibaly was killed by pro-Ouattara forces in Abidjan.

He led the "Invisible Commandos" who had helped bring Mr Ouattara to power two weeks ago but who since refused to disarm.

Our correspondent says Mr Coulibaly's death eliminates a potential cause of instability for the new government.

But he says the internal fighting among the coalition of former warlords that brought President Ouattara to power and over which he has limited control remains a worrying sign.

Thousands are believed to have been killed and wounded during the recent crisis.

An investigation has been opened into alleged human rights abuses committed by Mr Gbagbo and his forces during the four-month standoff.

The former president and his wife Simone have been put under house arrest in separate towns in the north of the country.

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