France ordered more troops into Ivory Coast to protect civilians yesterday as forces backing Ivorian presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara prepared a “lightning” assault to remove strongman Laurent Gbagbo from power.
As hundreds of pro-Ouattara soldiers gathered on the outskirts of Abidjan, waiting to launch what they say will be the final assault to unseat Gbagbo, explosions could be heard from the direction of the presidential palace.
Gbagbo has refused to cede power after a disputed election on Nov. 28 last year, which UN--certified results showed Ouattara won, but Gbagbo rejected the results and accused the UN of bias. The political standoff that followed has now turned into a resumption of the civil war of 2002-2003.
Speaking on Sunday on the pro-Ouattara TCI television channel, Ouattara’s prime minister Guillaume Soro said their strategy had been to encircle the city, harass Gbagbo’s troops and gather intelligence on their arsenal.
“The situation is now ripe for a lightning offensive,” which he said would come any time soon.
France said yesterday it was sending an extra 150 soldiers from the West African nation of Gabon to help protect civilians in Ivory Coast.
The deployment brings the number of French troops in Ivory Coast to 1,650. France has about 12,000 nationals in Ivory Coast and the French military contingent has already mounted patrols in Abidjan and taken control of the airport.
It had been expected that Ouattara’s forces would quickly overrun Gbagbo’s troops following defection by high-ranking officers, but they have managed to withstand the assault so far and regain control of the state broadcaster RTI.
Through the television channel, they have broadcast virulent anti-French and anti-UN messages, while rallying support from Gbagbo’s youth wing, the Young Patriots, who have formed a human chain around Gbagbo’s residence and presidential palace.
A reporter saw scores of Young Patriots gather by the lagoon near the palace with plastic buckets and bottles to collect water, guarded by jumpy soldiers brandishing AK-47s.
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