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Posted by Admin on April 1, 2011

Laurent Gbagbo, Président de la République (Cô...

Laurent Gbagbo President of Ivory Coast

Fierce fighting spreads in Ivory Coast showdown

By Loucoumane Coulibaly and Ange Aboa – 1 hr 36 mins ago

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Fierce fighting spread across Abidjan on Friday as forces loyal to Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo fended off attacks by those seeking to install rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara.

The heaviest clashes centered around the state television station, which went off air after pro-Ouattara forces seized it overnight. Gbagbo’s camp said it had retaken it in the morning.

Booms of heavy weapons fire also rang out from near Gbagbo’s residence and office, both of which have come under attack, as well as two major military bases.

Gbagbo has been hit by a number of high-level defections in the military and the African Union called on him to step down immediately. But loyalists have fought back and a Paris-based Gbagbo adviser said his surrender was “out of the question.”

The main city in the world’s top cocoa grower has turned into a war-zone since forces loyal to the internationally recognized president, Ouattara, marched in on Thursday after a swift push south aimed at ousting Gbagbo.

Gbagbo has refused to quit since a November 28 election that U.N.-certified results said he lost.

Hundreds of foreigners were taken to a French military camp after they were threatened by looters.

The United Nations also called on Ouattara to rein in his forces, citing what it said were unconfirmed reports they had abducted and mistreated civilians.

“We can hear shooting and see soldiers moving but there are also armed civilians running in the streets,” said Camara Arnold, a resident in Cocody, the leafy neighborhood that is home to the state television building and Gbagbo’s residence.

One resident said overnight fighting was so heavy it shook the earth.

The power struggle had pushed cocoa prices higher, but they have tumbled since Ouattara’s push on expectations that exports will be freed up. Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion 2032 bond, on which it defaulted in January, extended gains on Friday, rising almost 1.5 points on hopes of an end to the conflict.

Pro-Ouattara forces faced little resistance as they advanced south this week but Patrick Achi, a spokesman for his government, said Gbagbo’s forces were still fighting at the state television building.

It was not clear where Gbagbo was and his camp in Abidjan was not available for comment. Alain Toussaint, a Paris-based adviser of Gbagbo’s, said he would not give up.

“He will not surrender. It is out of the question.”

Ouattara’s fighters attacked Gbagbo’s residence overnight and heavy weapons fire erupted on Friday near the presidential palace in the center of town in what a military source said was an attack by pro-Ouattara forces.

Reuters witnesses said clashes were also heard coming from Treichville, a neighborhood where the Republican Guard has a base that is used to protect the city’s main bridges. Residents also reported heavy fighting at the Agban gendarmerie base.

Charity workers said it had become impossible for people in Abidjan to obtain medical care in the current conditions and UK-based Amnesty International said the city was “on the brink of … total chaos.”


Gbagbo has been in power since 2000. His mandate ran out in 2005 but the presidential election was delayed until 2010 because of instability in the country.

A Sorbonne-educated history professor who prides himself on being in touch with ordinary Ivorians, he rose to prominence as firebrand lecturer who challenged the autocratic rule of Ivory Coast’s first post-independence president.

The four month standoff since the election has killed hundreds and rekindled the country’s 2002-3 civil war. About 1 million have fled Abidjan alone and 122,000 more have crossed into Liberia, according to the United Nations.

Earlier this week, Ouattara’s forces advanced from several directions, taking the capital Yamoussoukro and the cocoa port of San Pedro with little resistance.

Some of Gbagbo’s top officers, including the head of his armed forces and gendarmerie, have abandoned him but an unknown number appear to be putting up stiff resistance and Ouattara’s forces could get sucked into bloody urban warfare with his hard-core supporters, some of whom are recently armed civilians.

The capture of San Pedro, which ships half of the country’s production, could kick-start the flow of beans that dried up in January due to sanctions, but an EU diplomat said sanctions will not be lifted until Gbagbo steps down.

An internal U.N. report, seen by Reuters, said pro-Gbagbo forces had ceded control of the airport to the world body but, elsewhere in the city, peacekeepers had exchanged fire with Gbagbo loyalists on Thursday.

At least 494 people have been confirmed killed since the standoff began, according to the United Nations, but, given the scale of fighting, the real figure is likely to be much higher.

(Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Abidjan; Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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