Ivory Coast's Gbagbo resists calls to step down
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The main Ivorian city of Abidjan was tense after a day of heavy fighting around key sites as troops loyal to Ivory Coast’s internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara launched a final push to oust Ivorian strongman Laurent Gbagbo.
The main Ivorian city of Abidjan was under siege, after a day of heavy fighting around the presidential palace, as troops loyal to Ivory Coast’s internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara were in a potentially decisive push to oust Ivorian strongman Laurent Gbagbo.
Fighting was intense Friday around key Abidjan sites, including the presidential palace in the Deux Plateau business district, the presidential residence in the upscale Cocody neighbourhood, and a military camp in the Adjame area.
Where is Laurent Gbagbo?
The whereabouts of Gbagbo, the longtime leader who has refused to concede the November 28, 2010 election, was a subject of intense speculation in and outside the West African nation Friday.
The 65-year-old Ivorian leader has not been seen since a rapid southward advance by pro-Ouattara forces from their northern bases began five days ago.
“The question remains: where is Laurent Gbagbo? We’ve spoken to many of his advisors who assure us that Gbagbo is still in the country, still in Abidjan,” said FRANCE 24’s Bernard Mark, reporting from Abidjan. “There’s a bit of disagreement as to whether he’s in the (presidential) residence or if he’s in the presidential palace. Diplomatic sources however say he’s probably neither in the presidential office nor the residence and hiding in a third place.”
In an interview with FRANCE 24 Friday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Fitzgerald likened the quest for Gbagbo to the popular US children’s game-book, ‘Where’s Waldo?’
“I don’t think anyone knows, we’re all looking for him because he’s got some answering to do – certainly about the 400 deaths in the past four months,” said Fitzgerald.
According to UN figures, more than 460 people have been killed since the November 2010 election and at least a million people have been displaced fleeing the violence.
There have been numerous calls on Gbagbo to step down by international bodies such as the UN, the African Union, the EU and the West African regional grouping ECOWAS to prevent a bloodbath in the West African nation.
Swedish UN employee shot dead in Abidjan
As fighting intensified around the presidential palace, a Swedish UN employee was shot and killed, "probably by a stray bullet", the Swedish foreign ministry said Friday.
A teacher of French nationality was shot dead late Thursday-early Friday in his hotel room in the country’s political capital Yamoussoukro, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman told FRANCE 24 Friday.
It was not known if the death was due to fighting or if it was a criminal affair, the spokesman added.
As the power vacuum stretched in the country’s commercial capital of Abidjan, there were reports of pillaging in some parts, said Mark.
Reporting from Abidjan, Mark said UN peacekeepers - who are under a strict mandate to only fire if they’re fired on - have been called in to address cases of pillaging in some city shopping centres.
Some 700 foreigners in Abidjan have sought refuge at a French military base, according to French military officials.
State TV in Ouattara's controls
Over the past few days, the state RTI television has been announcing an upcoming Gbagbo speech. But there has been no such address so far and on Friday, Ouattara officials said the TV station, in the chic Cocody area, had been seized.
A day after declaring the country’s land, air and sea borders closed, Ouattara’s interior ministry declared Ivory Coast’s air border opened. But land and sea borders remained closed.
On Thursday, UN peacekeepers stationed in Ivory Coast took control of Abidjan’s main airport. But a security source working at the airport told Reuters that the airport was taken over by French forces on Friday afternoon.
Noose tightens around Gbagbo
Rebels fighting to install Ouattara as president made rapid advances in the past few days from their bases in northern Ivory Coast. On Wednesday, the political capital of Yamoussoukro fell unopposed to rebel forces. The port of San Pedro, a key site in this cocoa-exporting nation, fell shortly thereafter.
News came Thursday that the UN security cordon around the Golf Hotel in Abidjan had been lifted. Ouattara has spent the past four months in the hotel's premises, protected by UN peacekeeping forces in Ivory Coast.
According to FRANCE 24 correspondent Nathan King at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, the lifting of the cordon and the retreat of Gbagbo’s forces have enabled the peacekeepers “to move about Abidjan, going to civilian areas that had been under attack by pro-Gbagbo forces.”
But King also said that there is deep concern in diplomatic circles that the situation in Ivory Coast could easily spiral out of control. “The UN and the international community are happy that Ouattara could be president within the next few days or hours,” King said. “But they are worried about reprisals from both sides.”