Gbagbo defiant as Ouattara prepares ‘final offensive’
Issued on: Modified:
Internationally recognised Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara's army is preparing to launch its “final offensive” against forces loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ouattara’s premier, Guillaume Soro, tells FRANCE 24.
Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast’s internationally recognised president, are preparing to launch a “final offensive” against incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo in the West African country’s economic capital of Abidjan.
On Monday, residents barricaded themselves inside their homes, blanketing windows and pushing furniture against doors as pro-Ouattara fighters amassed at the city's northern edge, preparing for the final assault.
Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro, told FRANCE 24 late on Sunday that the “time was ripe” for a rapid attack to claim control of Abidjan.
“We're in Abidjan, we've encircled the city, and for the past 72 hours we've fought Gbagbo's mercenaries and militia,” he said. “We have always said that Ivorians need to be able to solve their own problems. It's now our responsibility to launch the final
Fierce attacks on Gbagbo strongholds shook Abidjan with artillery strikes and machinegun fire this weekend, but the internationally isolated strongman has vowed to fight to the last.
France, Ivory Coast’s former colonial ruler, sent its reinforced Licorne (Unicorn) force to help UN peacekeepers maintain control of the airport on Sunday while the UN evacuated some 200 of its staff to rebel-held Bouake after repeated attacks on its headquarters by Gbagbo troops.
The French government sent another 150 troops toAbidjan, bringing its force there charged mainly with protecting foreigners to around 1,650, the military said on Monday.
A first group of foreigners were evacuated on Sunday, while some 1,650 foreigners, half of them French, took shelter from the fighting at the Licorne base.
Gbagbo holds on
There have been numerous calls for Gbagbo to step down from international bodies such as the UN, the African Union, the European Union and the West African regional grouping ECOWAS to prevent an Ivorian bloodbath.
Despite the odds seemingly stacked against him, Gbagbo remains defiant.
State TV channel RTI, which was briefly captured by Ouattara’s men last week, continues to broadcast propaganda condemning Ouattara, France and the UN.
One message broadcast on the channel claimed that a “Rwandan genocide is being prepared in Ivory Coast by [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy's men”. Another announced that “the French army has occupied the Felix Houphouet-Boigny airport; we are in danger.”
The station urged civilians in Abidjan to form a “human shield” around Gbagbo's residence.
Ivory Coast has been a tense and divided country since a November 28 presidential run-off. Election observers and the international community have since recognised opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as the legitimate winner.
But Gbagbo, in power since 2000 and Ouattara’s arch rival in the ethnically divided country, refused to cede power, leading to the standoff that now appears to be reaching its climax.
Ouattara’s men accused of massacres
The fight has been bloody, and reports of a massacre last week have emerged in which the finger of blame has been pointed at Ouattara forces.
The UN says 330 people were killed in the western city of Duekoue last week as Gbagbo’s forces withdrew while the International Red Cross estimates the number of those killed at 800, describing the incident as “particularly shocking by its size and brutality”.
According to UN figures, more than 460 people have been killed since the November 2010 run-off and at least a million have been displaced fleeing the violence.