By Lesley Wroughton
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (Reuters) - World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on Tuesday expressed support for Ivory Coast in his first visit to the West African nation and said he was confident the country could successfully rebuild from post-election violence as long as there was lasting peace.
"I am here to express my strong strong support for this country, its people, and the leadership," Kim told a joint news conference with President Alassane Ouattara.
"We need Cote Ivoire to be successful and as long as Ivorians choose peace ... we are certain that Cote Ivoire will have great success in the future."
Ouattara welcomed the World Bank's continued backing for his country and without elaborating said he had asked Kim, who took the helm of the global development lender two months ago, to substantially increase funding to Ivory Coast. The country is plagued by high youth unemployment, increased poverty and huge infrastructure needs.
World Bank funding to the world's biggest cocoa-growing nation is currently around $1 billion and any increase in lending would come from the Bank's fund for the world's 81 poorest countries, the International Development Association.
Ouattara said economic growth in Ivory Coast would likely be above eight percent this year and reach double digits by 2014. He said he hoped his country would reach emerging market status by 2020, alongside India, Brazil and South Africa.
"I have great hope for this country," Kim told reporters. "All around me today I could see the dividends of peace and I want to congratulate everybody in this country for being committed to a peaceful path forward," he added.
Ivory Coast has started showing signs of revival since the end of violence last year, which erupted after former President Laurent Gbagbo disputed a late 2010 election result that showed he had lost to Ouattara.
The violence, which killed 3,000 people, continued even after Gbagbo was captured and transferred to The Hague to stand trail at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity.
Now the world's top cocoa grower is struggling to cope with a spate of armed raids this month on police and military installations, raising fears of renewed instability.
Earlier on Tuesday, Kim visited a World Bank-funded youth training center, where students include ex-combatants.
Kim again expressed hope for lasting peace.
"You have been through difficult times and I know that you are now just in the process of recovering," he said. "What you are doing now - getting an education, learning skills - this is critically important not just for the future of your country but for the entire region."
During his first day on the trip, Kim focused on hearing about ways in which the World Bank can help Ivory Coast rebuild and address the challenge of high unemployment, especially among youths.
The youth training center is an example of how the World Bank and the private sector can support government efforts to develop skills training for unemployed youths.
An estimated 60 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 35 are unemployed or underemployed in the Ivory Coast. One in two young adults in these age groups is underemployed.
The Chamber of Commerce estimates that the post election crisis caused the additional loss of between 80,000 and 120,000 jobs in the private sector.
Kim, the former president of Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school in New Hampshire, reflected on his personal story as the son of immigrant parents from South Korea who moved to the United States when he was 5 and how he benefited from a good education.
He shared high fives with students as he posed for a group photograph, wearing a white sports cap given to him by the training center.
"Born in a very poor country I was committed to my studies and now I'm the president of the World Bank. All of you too can be president of the World Bank," he joked with students.
(Editing by Jackie Frank)