News / Africa

Ivory Coast Braces for Violent Showdown

Soldiers loyal to Laurent Gbagbo patrol a street in the central Plateau neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 2, 2011
Soldiers loyal to Laurent Gbagbo patrol a street in the central Plateau neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, April 2, 2011
Julia Ritchey

Tensions in Ivory Coast's commercial capital remain high as forces loyal to the country's internationally-recognized president lay the groundwork for a final push to unseat incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

The prime minister of internationally-recognized president Alassane Ouattara says rebel troops are gathering on the outskirts of Abidjan in preparation for a final assault. Guillaume Soro says clashes in the city have caused panic among troops loyal to Laurent Gbagbo.

Adding to the tension are reports that Gbagbo's army chief, Philippe Mangou, has rejoined the military after seeking refuge with his family in the South African embassy last week.

With talk of a final push circulating for days, Eurasia Group Africa analyst Anne Fruhauf says it remains unclear how imminent an assault actually is.

“There are certain disagreements, I understand, within the rebel camp about how to proceed. And then some of the problems are also that there's increasingly civilians in the street. They're strategically being put in front of places like the presidential residence and I think the palace now, so that it makes it very difficult for the rebels to launch a final assault on critical targets like that,” Fruhauf said.

J. Peter Pham of the Ansari Africa Center agrees, adding that any assault will likely be violent.

“I think there are those who would like an assault on the city. There are others who I think are thinking more toward the future, which if they assault the city, it's going to make it that much more difficult to govern it if they succeed,” Pham said.

With the lack of reliable information coming from Abidjan, Fruhauf says it is difficult to assess what impact, if any, the return of Gbagbo's army chief will have.

“I think the most important point about his departure is that symbolically, politically, it's clearly very important. He would've been a very big win for the Ouattara camp in the current climate. The population is very confused about who's actually in control now. So right now the more signals either side can send is very strategic right now,” Fruhauf said.

Both analysts agree that Ouattara is being very careful on how to proceed. Gbagbo has refused to step down since he lost the country's presidential elections last November.

France, which took control of Abidjan's airport Sunday, says it is sending in another 150 troops to help protect civilians and evacuate foreign nationals as the situation escalates.

Abidjan has remained paralyzed for almost five days now, with food running low and water shut off in several parts of the city.  Residents have barricaded themselves inside homes and offices to avoid the sporadic gunfire between rival factions around the city.

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