Ouattara loyalists besiege Gbagbo home in Abidjan
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Fighters supporting Ivory Coast's internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara say they have attacked the Abidjan residence of his rival, Laurent Gbagbo, and taken control of the country’s state TV after entering the city on Thursday.
Forces loyal to internationally recognised Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara attacked the Abidjan residence of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo on Friday in an attempt to eject the disputed ruler. Ouattara loyalists also took control of Ivory Coast’s state television, RTI TV, a spokesman for his camp said.
Ivory Coast was a French colony from the late 19th century until 1960. The two countries have maintained close economic and military ties since.
France maintains 1,000 troops in Ivory Coast to protect its nationals and support UN peacekeepers.
An estimated 15,000 French nationals live in Ivory Coast, while 600 French companies have 40,000 employees in the country.
In 2002, when a civil war divided Ivory Coast’s north and south, France was accused by both the government and rebels of supporting the other side. In 2004, France retaliated against an Ivorian attack on French peacekeepers in the north by destroying the entire Ivorian air force. The incident sparked mass anti-French protests.
After the November presidential vote, France publically pressed incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to step down after the UN certified results that showed rival Alassane Ouattara as the winner.
France used to be Ivory Coast’s top trade partner, but since 2008 has fallen to second place after oil-producing Nigeria.
Reports of fighting at Gbagbo’s home were confirmed by sources in Gbagbo’s camp, as well as witnesses in the area.
One Abidjan resident in the city's northern Cocody district told FRANCE 24 that he could hear “heavy gunfire” that had lasted “all night long”. The witness also confirmed that state TV had stopped broadcasting.
The chairman of the African Union commission, Jean Ping, has called on Gbagbo to urgently hand over power to Ouattara "in order to shorten the suffering of the Ivorians'', in a statement released from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Noose tightens around Gbagbo
In the face of mounting pressure from the West and the African Union, as well as sanctions by the US, EU, and UN, Gbagbo has refused to give up power following the November 28 election that showed him losing to rival Ouattara according to UN-certified results. The result has been a deadly post-election showdown between the politicians.
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 capital of Yamoussoukro fell unopposed to rebel forces. The port of San Pedro, a key site in this cocoa-exporting nation, fell shortly thereafter.
Thursday, the noose tightened around Gbagbo’s neck when South Africa confirmed Thursday that Gen. Phillippe Mangou, the army's chief of staff and a well-known Gbagbo loyalist, had sought refuge at the South African ambassador’s residence in Abidjan.
UN ‘worried about reprisals’
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.” King specified that the UN and international observers fear that previous talk of a unity government composed of Ouattara and various Ivorian political participants – including certain former Gbagbo ministers – “may dissolve in this military onslaught”.
“There is a real feeling that deep divisions in Ivory Coast may be even further enhanced by this onslaught on the capital,” King said.