News / Africa

Ivory Coast Fighting Spreads to Abidjan

Unidentified troops drive past in the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 1, 2011
Unidentified troops drive past in the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 1, 2011

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Fighters backing Ivory Coast's internationally-recognized president are battling for control of the commercial capital as the incumbent leader refuses to give up power.

It was a full day of fighting in Abidjan as forces loyal to the internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara battled troops still loyal to incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo. They fought near Gbagbo's home in the Cocody neighborhood and around the presidential palace downtown.

Gbagbo's whereabouts are not known. He has not been seen in public since the fighting began. There was brief TV footage of him on state-run television late Thursday joking with a dozen supporters.

Fighting also took place outside the headquarters of the state-run television. Television broadcasts went off the air Thursday but resumed broadcasting pro-Gbagbo video late Friday.

It is not clear if Gbagbo is inside his home, in the presidential palace or elsewhere. A Paris-based adviser, Alain Toussaint, said Friday that Gbagbo has no intention of ceding power.

The spokesman for the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast, Hamdoun Toure, said the U.N. is willing to facilitate Gbagbo's departure, but he has not yet responded to that offer.

While pro-Ouattara troops moved quickly to capture the capital Yamoussoukro and the port of San Pedro, Gbagbo appears to have far-more-determined defenders in Abidjan, despite the defection of army chief of staff, Philippe Mangou, who has sought refuge with his wife and children in the home of the South African ambassador.

Artillery and rocket-propelled grenades in Abidjan are some of the heaviest fighting of a crisis that began four months ago when Gbagbo refused to accept electoral commission results certified by the United Nations that showed Ouattara won the vote.

Ouattara is calling on members of the Gbagbo military to join his fighters, saying it is time to put themselves at the disposal of the country and return to legality.

The U.N. High Commission for Human Rights is urging both sides to respect the rights of civilians, saying it has reports of abuses by pro-Ouattara forces in western provinces near the Liberian border and reports of abuses by pro-Gbagbo troops in Abidjan.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. human rights office, said, "There should be no revenge taking place. The forces should show restraint. They might wish to bear in mind that an International Commission of Inquiry is already being set up to look into human rights violations in Côte d'Ivoire, and obviously that will look at all human rights violations committed by people on either side. And they might also want to remember that the International Criminal Court is also engaged in Côte d'Ivoire."

The United Nations says nearly 500 people have been killed since November's vote. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging all parties to avoid harming civilians and is repeating his demand that Gbagbo immediately give up power so Ouattara can take charge.

The West African regional alliance is calling on Gbagbo to end the suffering of his country and quit power. The United States says it is time Gbagbo "read the writing on the wall" and immediately step down, as the U.S. State Department says it now appears events in Ivory Coast are "coming to a resolution."

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