Gbagbo clings on in Abidjan
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Troops loyal to Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo continue to hold out against rebel forces, repelling offensives against key sites in Abidjan, as Red Cross officials say hundreds have died in ethnic clashes in the country's west.
AP - Military officials loyal to Ivory Coast’s entrenched leader on Saturday called on their forces to resist rebels who are trying to depose him after he has refused to cede power.
Forces loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo retook state TV headquarters Saturday. Gbagbo’s military spokesman Lt. Col. Alphonse Guano then made a televised address. In it, he called on security forces to report for duty to resist attacks by forces loyal to internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara, whose fighters now control most of the country.
A disheveled TV announcer said Gbagbo was at his residence Saturday and that it had not been attacked.
But residents nearby said explosions and gunfire erupted Saturday morning near the presidency. An AP journalist heard gunfire and explosions Saturday morning about two city blocks from Gbagbo’s presidential palace in Abidjan.
Rebels loyal to internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara made a lightning advance through the country this week, seizing the administrative capital on Wednesday before heading to Abidjan, the country’s largest city.
The push has been led by a northern rebel group that is allied with Ouattara.
On Saturday, officials with the International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 800 people were killed in intercommunal violence in a western town that had been taken by the rebel group.
Red Cross spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said the violence likely erupted Tuesday, the day after the town was taken by the fighters. It is not clear what prompted the killings and whether the armed group was involved.
Krimitsas said Red Cross teams were there Friday and saw a “huge number of bodies.”
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has received “unconfirmed but worrying reports” that the pro-Ouattara force “has been committing human rights violations” during the advance toward Abidjan.
Ouattara’s government Saturday denied those fighters were involved in any atrocities, and blamed any killings on Gbagbo forces acting as they retreated. Their statement did not refer specifically to the town, Duekoue.
Gbagbo has rejected calls to step down. His aides said Friday they will never give in, even though nearly 80 percent of the country and now large swaths of Abidjan are controlled by fighters loyal to Ouattara.
Gbagbo, 65, has not been seen in public since the offensive began, but those in his inner circle said Friday he was still in Abidjan and would fight until the end. Ouattara has ordered land and sea borders closed to seal all the exits in case Gbagbo attempts to flee.
Ouattara’s victory with 54 percent of the vote was recognized first by the country’s electoral commission and then by the United Nations. He has been recognized by governments around the world, and leaders from U.S. President Barack Obama to French President Nicolas Sarkozy have made personal appeals to Gbagbo to step down.
Since the disputed election, Ouattara had worked to rally international support for an armed intervention led by either the U.N. or a regional force to avoid the impression that he had taken the country by violent means. Ouattara’s aides said he exhausted all diplomatic options before giving the armed group the go-ahead.
Attacking from the west, the center and the east, the fighters took towns with almost no resistance, seizing more than three-quarters of the country in four days. By the time the military vehicles crossed into Abidjan early Friday, as many as 50,000 members of Gbagbo’s security forces had deserted, according to the top U.N. envoy in Ivory Coast, Choi Young-jin.
At least 1 million people have fled Abidjan and 494 have been killed during the four months of violence waged by Gbagbo’s security forces. Early on, world leaders offered him amnesty and a golden parachute in return for leaving peacefully. The U.N. has said his regime will be investigated for possible crimes against humanity.