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How Ivory Coast's Gbabgo aims to solve his cash woes

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Half a week into new negotiations over how the two men claiming to be president of Ivory Coast can share power, the political future of the country remains as murky as ever. Yet the spiral staircase downward couldn't be more clearly laid out for West Africa's second-largest economy and the 21 million people trapped in it.

Elections three months ago were meant to restore the country's biggest city, Abidjan, as the financial capital of the Francophone tropics. But today Ivory Coast finds itself something like an unplugged ATM with no money in the tank and a surrounding mob of goons still trying to screwdriver their way in.

How did that happen? Mostly because the country's currency is printed abroad. When incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to cede power after losing the Nov. 28 presidential election, the Senegal-based Central Bank – which moves that money from the mint through the loan window into the hands of bankers and then customers – abruptly stopped sending cash over.

With no new currency flowing in, and a torrent of money being yanked out of banks by anxious customers, the country's financial institutions began emptying their registers.

ATMs, check cashiers, and Western Union have all reportedly run out of cash, a heartbreak for nervous Ivorians in long lines.

Several of the country's top banks have totally ceased operations, so troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo have "nationalized" – the opposition says "robbed" – those lenders. Gbagbo's troops have also "requisitioned" – again, their words – whatever cash was left in the Central Bank's Abidjan bureau.

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