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Deadly clashes erupt as protestors heed call to storm TV station

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-12-16

Security forces clashed with supporters of presidential candidate Alasanne Ouattara in Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan Thursday following Ouattara's call to storm the state TV station.

Heavy weapons were fired Thursday in Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan as troops loyal to rival presidential contenders clashed in a deadly escalation of a political crisis that has gripped the West African nation since the disputed Nov. 28 presidential runoff.

The latest violence came as supporters of Alassane Ouattara - a long-time opposition leader whose victory in the presidential runoff has been acknowledged by the international community – attempted to heed his call to storm the state television headquarters.

Deadly skirmishes broke out Thursday as security forces loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo clashed with fighters loyal to Ouattara’s designated prime minister, Guillaume Soro. At least five people were killed, including four protestors and one fighter loyal to Soro.

Reporting from Abidjan, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said heavy fighting broke out Thursday as Ouattara supporters attempted to march from the waterfront Hotel Golf, where the opposition leader has been based since the Nov. 28 poll, to the headquarters of the state RTI television station.

Ouattara’s supporters, according to Vanier, were preceded by forces loyal to Soro, the former leader of the New Forces rebel group.

“All of them were carrying assault rifles. Some of them had grenade launchers,” said Vanier, referring to Soro’s forces. “And it seems that just a few minutes after Guillaume Soro’s security forces headed out into the road that leads from the hotel to the national TV station, heavy fighting broke out. Rockets were fired, heavy artillery was heard. This three kilometer stretch of road between the hotel and the TV station is where the battle is taking place.”

Ouattara, Soro and their supporters have been holed up in the Hotel Golf since the Nov. 28 runoff, protected by their supporters and UN troops.

Meanwhile Gbagbo has maintained control of the military, the state media and government buildings.

ICC warns it will pursue perpetrators of violence

The West African nation has been in crisis since the November 28 runoff, with both canidates claiming victory and picking their own cabinets. The political stalemate has ground economic activity in the world’s largest cocoa-growing nation to a halt.

Violence was anticipated Thursday following Ouattara’s call to storm the state TV station.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 Thursday, International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that if violence broke out in Ivory Coast, he would prosecute those responsible.

"If they start to kill people then it's a crime and we will pursue them," said Moreno-Ocampo. "No one can commit crime in Ivory Coast because of elections.

"The reality is that some people in Ivory Coast are planning attacks and we know that. And I want to tell them clearly, if you do that... you will be prosecuted. That's a clear message," he added.

‘An important symbol’

Although Ouattara enjoys the support of the international community, most of the state institutions continue to be controlled by Gbagbo.

Reporting from Abidjan, Vanier said Ouattara’s call to storm the state TV station was an attempt to gain control of a critical national institution.

“There are basically three levers of power here in Ivory Coast: the economy, the army and the TV,” explained Vanier. “The Ouattara camp has not managed to get a firm grasp of the economy and the army is still loyal to Gbagbo. So Ouattara and his government are trying to take control of the TV because at present they have no means of broadcasting their message. The TV station is definitely one of the country’s seats of power and it’s an important symbol.”



Date created : 2010-12-16