March 31, 2011
Forces loyal to the president-elect of Ivory Coat, Alassane Ouattara, are pressing on the main city of Abidjan from several directions. Their offensive threatens to make a battleground of the city, the last stronghold of presidential rival Laurent Gbagbo. Mr Gbagbo’s army chief earlier sought refuge with South Africa’s ambassador. The UN says Mr Gbagbo lost last year’s election to Mr Ouattara, but he has so far refused to cede power.
Armed supporters of Mr Gbagbo have been patrolling districts of the city, setting up roadblocks. The BBC’s Valerie Bony in Abidjan says there is fighting around the national television centre in a residential part of the city. She says an informed source had told her that the head of the military police, Edouard Kassarate, had defected to the Ouattara side and had gone to the Hotel de Golf, Mr Ouattara’s headquarters in Abidjan, which had been besieged by Mr Gbagbo’s forces.
Ivory Coast rebels seize capital and march on Abidjan
March 31, 2011
Rebels forces fighting to install Ivory Coast’s democratically elected president are preparing to advance on the country’s largest city, Abidjan, after seizing a key port and the official capital overnight. Power seems to be slipping away from the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, after troops loyal to his rival, Alassane Ouattara, swept south, taking the official capital, Yamoussoukro, and the port of San Pedro late on Wednesday. Residents and combatants from both sides said opposition troops are in control and it is now largely calm apart from some sporadic shooting. Now attention turns to Abidjan, where the mood is tense ahead of a possible rebel assault. Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro, told French radio that Gbagbo has just hours to leave power peacefully.
In a further sign of Gbagbo’s weakening position, the Army Chief of Staff sought refuge last night at the home of the South African ambassador to Ivory Coast. Gen. Phillippe Mangou, his wife and five children arrived at the ambassador’s home in Abidjan on Wednesday night, according to the South African foreign ministry. South Africa says it is consulting with unnamed parties in Ivory Coast, West African regional leaders, the African Union and the U.N. on Mangou’s move. Ouattara’s New Forces, renamed the Republic Forces (FRCI), have made huge gains in the past two days, seizing swaths of territory in the centre, east and west. Seydou Ouattara, a military spokesman, told Reuters: “We have taken the port of San Pedro. Gbagbo’s forces have all left. We are in full control.”
One San Pedro resident, who declined to be named, said: “Shooting started at around 9pm, then we saw the rebels’ vehicles drive into the town. Everyone’s staying indoors, but we’re still hearing a lot of gunfire.” Witnesses saw soldiers taking off their uniforms and throwing guns and ammunition into ditches as they fled from the rebel army. Others say some soldiers simply switched sides and joined the Republican Forces. Earlier, residents of Yamoussoukro said they braced themselves for conflict before sporadic gunfire erupted. Serge Kipre, who runs a small clothing store in the city, said: “The night before, we were all calling each other to make sure nobody went outside. In the morning, I saw loads of police with balaclavas and Kalashnikovs racing across town. The market closed, shops shuttered. Everybody seemed on edge.”