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Power struggle homes in on central Abidjan

Scores of residents have fled the central Abidjan neighbourhood of Cocody, where FRANCE 24 captured exclusive footage of the latest armed stand-off between Ivory Coast's dueling political camps.

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Violence returned to central Abidjan on Sunday after the previous day’s hour-long gunfire attack on the Golf Hotel, the headquarters of the internationally recognised president Alassane Outtara, with residents of Ivory Coast's commercial capital reporting new fighting this time around the presidential palace.

The incidents highlighted the ongoing power struggle between Ouattara and rival Laurent Gbagbo, a months-long standoff that seems to be homing in on the neighbourhood of Cocody.

“The Golf Hotel and Laurent Gbagbo’s residence are both in the district of Cocody, maybe three kilometers apart. That is why the Gbagbo forces, if indeed it was them, managed to target the hotel here,” explained FRANCE 24 correspondent Marc Smith, who is at Outtara’s compound.

Ouattara has been holed up in the luxury lagoon-front hotel with strong UN protection since disputed November elections which the election commission said he won, a result rejected by Gbagbo, who has been in power for more than 10 years.

While UN spokesman Hamadoun Toure assured that “RPGs and mortar rounds” targeting the Golf Hotel came directly from Gbagbo’s forces, the outgoing president’s spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, denied Gbagbo’s soldiers were behind the attack.

Exclusive FRANCE 24 images show how the gunshots and explosions caught pro-Ouattara forces and UN peacekeepers off guard. UN soldiers of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin scrambled into the building’s kitchen alongside some of Ouattara’s ministers.

Hotel residents rushed down from rooms on higher floors, while UN soldiers took positions on the rooftop to fire back at the unseen shooters. The firing stopped after more than one hour without having caused any casualties, but served as a strong reminder of the political crisis that has gripped the country for four months.

On Sunday, scores of residents fled the area around the Golf Hotel in anticipation of further fighting.

Final battleground of political stand-off?

Laurent Gbagbo called on his supporters to mount a resistance against French forces, “because ultimately it is the French army that attacked us,” Gbagbo spokesman Mello said in a statement.

Rebel forces seeking to install Ouattara - who won a November election with results certified by the United Nations - swept almost unopposed from the north all the way to the southern economic capital Abidjan more than a week ago.

But despite a fierce rebel onslaught, Gbagbo's soldiers have held onto swathes of the city, and are now growing bolder, news agencies reported.

Gbagbo is reported to be isolated in the bunker under his residence, where he has sought safety from almost unimpeded assault by Ouattara's troops that are backed by UN and French forces.

Earlier this week, the Elysee Palace released a statement saying that French operations in Ivory Coast were intended to “neutralise” heavy weapons belonging to troops loyal to Gbagbo.

But the United Nations warned on Friday that the incumbent president's forces had gained ground in Abidjan after a brief pause in fighting that was broken by yesterday’s attack on the Golf Hotel.

Meanwhile Ouattara has come under pressure over allegations that his forces committed atrocities in the west of the country as they advanced on Abidjan late last month. Human Rights Watch said troops loyal to Outtara killed or raped hundreds of people and burned villages, citing new evidence of summary killings of Gbagbo supporters in the far west.

Violence since elections in November has left hundreds dead and has forced up to one million people to flee. According to the Human Right Watch report, forces loyal to Gbagbo killed more than 100 civilians to retaliate against pro-Ouattara fighters who launched a major advance toward Abidjan.

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