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Gbagbo lieutenant calls for siege on rival headquarters

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-12-30

Incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo's most notorious lieutenant called Wednesday for Ivorian youths loyal to Gbagbo to lay siege to presidential challenger Alassane Ouattara's hotel headquarters on Saturday to "liberate" the country.

AFP - Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo's most notorious street lieutenant has vowed that the country's youth will rise up from Saturday and seize his rival Alassane Ouattara's headquarters.

"From January 1, I, Charles Ble Goude and the youth of Ivory Coast are going to liberate the Golf Hotel with our bare hands," the leader of Gbagbo's radical Young Patriots told a cheering crowd in Abidjan on Wednesday.

"It's the moment to liberate Ivory Coast," he declared.

Ouattara has been recognised as Ivory Coast's elected president by world powers but his shadow government is besieged in Abidjan's Golf Hotel, protected by an 800-strong force of UN peacekeepers and by former rebel fighters.

Political showman and faction leader Ble Goude is now Gbagbo's minister for youth and employment, but he is best known for stoking bloody anti-French riots in 2004, a role which saw him placed under United Nations sanctions.

He had cancelled a large-scale street rally planned for Wednesday, saying he wanted Ivory Coast's political stand-off to be resolved by regional diplomacy, but held a smaller meeting for several thousand die-hard supporters.

"We are ready to die for this Ivory Coast," he declared, while insisting that his supporters were unarmed and hoped to triumph through strength of numbers and will against Ouattara's men.

Both the incumbent and Ouattara claim to have won Ivory Coast's November 28 election run-off but the international community has recognised the latter as president, based on vote results endorsed by United Nations monitors.

The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has threatened military intervention, but its mediators are engaged in shuttle diplomacy between various capitals and neither side in Abidjan appears ready to back down.

Tension is mounting in and around the Golf Hotel, a waterfront resort on the outskirts of the port city which Ouattara and his supporters had turned into an election headquarters and has become an armed camp.

The shadow government in the hotel is guarded by a small contingent of former northern rebel fighters dubbed the New Forces, and the grounds are shielded by armed UN peacekeepers backed by armoured cars.

Access to the area is blocked by Gbagbo's regulars, the Security and Defence Forces (FDS), working alongside what UN observers say are mysterious masked militia fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades.

Ble Goude reserved particular venom for the leader of the New Forces, Ouattara's choice for prime minister Guillaume Soro, who is also in the Golf.

"We must launch the assault on the Golf to capture Guillaume Soro," he said. "The people of Ivory Coast are tired of our annoying neighbours in the Golf Hotel Republic. Every day Guillaume Soro and his army threaten and mock us."

UN supply convoys are regularly blocked as they try to cross Abidjan -- one patrol was attacked on Tuesday by a mob of pro-Gbagbo youths and a Bangladeshi soldier was hurt -- and the hotel is supplied by UN helicopter.

The United Nations' top peacekeeping official accused the Ivory Coast state television controlled by Gbagbo of inciting hate against peacekeepers.

"These declarations I hear on RTI concern us. They incite the population to turn against us, even incite hatred," Alain Le Roy, head of the United Nations worldwide peacekeeping department, told reporters here.

Date created : 2010-12-29


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