Ivory Coast Violence Shuts Down Cocoa Exports

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Deadly violence in Ivory Coast has shut down cocoa exports (search) from the world's largest producer, closing ports that ship more than 40 percent of the world's raw material for chocolate, cocoa traders said Tuesday.

Clashes that have pitted Ivory Coast's government and supporters against French forces come at the peak of Ivory Coast's main harvest, with overall production last year of 1.4 million tons.

Violence has closed the country's two main ports, in Abidjan (search) and San Pedro (search), since Saturday afternoon, traders and other officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Cocoa buyers are not venturing out into the bush to buy cocoa, they said.

"Not at all," one trader in Abidjan said by telephone. "Even in the bush, you can't get the cocoa from the farmers" because of the turmoil.

Cocoa workers in the cities, like most other residents of Ivory Coast's southern population centers, are staying inside their homes for fear of street violence.

Cocoa futures on the International Finance Futures and Options Exchange (search) climbed sharply Monday over the unrest in Ivory Coast, but eased back Tuesday. Cocoa for December was quoted at 947 pounds ($1,758) per metric ton at midday, down from 1,016 pounds ($1,886) per metric ton at midday Monday.

Ivory Coast normally produces 80 percent of its cocoa between October and January. Cocoa production is centered in the southwest, the base of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo's ethnic group and in recent years scene of some of the worst political violence.

The latest turmoil began Saturday, when Ivory Coast warplanes killed nine French peacekeepers and an American aid worker in an airstrike on the rebel-held north.

France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler, wiped out the nation's air force on the tarmac in retaliation, sparking massive anti-French rampages by mobs of thousands in the fiercely nationalist south.