Abidjan braces for endgame as pro-Ouattara troops descend on city
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Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan was tense as a night-time curfew was imposed following a rapid advance by fighters loyal to internationally recognised Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara, as the political crisis reached a decisive stage.
The main Ivorian city of Abidjan braced for what could be the decisive stage of a deadly, four-month-old, post-election showdown between rival presidents, as forces loyal to Ivory Coast’s internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara descended on the country’s commercial hub.
The West African nation’s main port city was on tenterhooks as night fell, with the sound of heavy fighting reverberating in some districts of the city.
A night-time curfew was put in place from Thursday until Sunday for the hours between 2100 and 0600 GMT, a spokeswoman for Ouattara told reporters, amid fears that violence or chaos could break out between pro-Ouattara forces and groups of diehard supporters of Ivorian strongman Laurent Gbagbo.
The country’s land, air and sea borders were also closed until further notice, according to a statement by Ouattara’s interior ministry late Thursday.
UN troops posted in Ivory Coast have taken control of Abidjan’s main airport as Gbagbo’s security apparatus appeared to crumble.
Rebels fighting to install Ouattara as president have been making rapid advances in the past few days from their bases in northern Ivory Coast. On Wednesday, the capital of Yamoussoukro fell unopposed to rebel forces. The port of San Pedro, a key site in this cocoa-exporting nation, fell shortly thereafter.
In a phone interview with FRANCE 24 from Yamoussoukro Thursday, Ouattarra’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said forces loyal to Ouattara had encircled Abidjan and were encountering little resistance from pro-Gbagbo forces amid rising troop defections.
"There is no resistance,” Soro told FRANCE 24. “There are already several generals who have joined our side.”
Speaking to FRANCE 24, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said France hoped there would be “no battle for Abidjan and no bloodbath ... so Gbgabo has to listen and leave.”
But the besieged Ivorian leader appeared defiant after what appeared to be a calamitous day in his long political career.
“President Gbabgo has no intention of resigning and will absolutely not surrender to some rebels,” Alain Toussaint, Laurent Gbagbo’s political advisor, told FRANCE 24 late Thursday. “After spending 40 years in politics…President Gbabgo will not abdicate by surrendering to rebels.”
Gbagbo’s army chief of staff seeks refuge in South African mission
Thursday’s extraordinary turn of events started with a South African confirmation that Gen. Phillippe Mangou, Gbagbo’s army chief of staff and a well-known loyalist, had sought refuge at the South African ambassador’s residence in Abidjan.
In recent days, the military and diplomatic noose has been tightening around Gbagbo, a longstanding leader who re-installed himself in the presidential palace in Abidjan after the November 2010 elections, disregarding internationals calls for him to step down.
Ouattara has spent the past four months in Abidjan’s Golf Hotel premises, protected by UN peacekeeping forces in Ivory Coast.
On Thursday, a UN envoy told a French TV station that the UN security cordon around the Golf Hotel had been lifted.
French forces have also been deployed in Abidjan with soldiers from the 1,000-strong French Licorne force in Ivory Coast deployed in Zone 4, in the south of the city.
The French Licorne force has been stationed in the country since shortly after the outbreak of the Ivorian Civil War in 2002. The troop's main mission is to support UN peacekeeping mission and to ensure the security of French and foreign nationals in the former French colony.
Pro-Gbagbo youths have deserted roadblocks,
The Ivorian commercial capital was eerily calm, said FRANCE 24’s Bernard Mark reporting from Abidjan earlier Thursday. “Every single store is closed, there isn’t a car on the road…even the roadblocks that we’ve seen over the last few weeks that were set up mostly by pro-Gbagbo youths have been abandoned.”
Abidjan is widely believed to be the site of a likely last stance by Gbagbo’s forces, which would probably centre around the presidential palace in the heart of the city.
As rumours of the Ivorian strongman’s whereabouts circulated across the city, state-controlled RTI TV said Gbagbo was “safe and sound in his home” in Cocody, an upscale neighbourhood of Abidjan.
“The question now is, will Abidjan fall as quickly as other cities have done, with virtually no resistance,” said Mark.