Ivory Coast braced for possible bloodshed yesterday, as supporters of the man the world recognizes as the nation’s president-elect prepared for a showdown in the streets with security forces loyal to the incumbent who refuses to step down.
Most shops and businesses were shut in skyscraper-lined Abidjan and city streets were deserted except for soldiers and police, as fearful residents stayed indoors. Police in the downtrodden Treichville neighborhood fired tear gas to disperse one crowd of hundreds who tried to gather for a planned march, but no injuries were immediately reported.
Longtime opposition leader Alassane Ouattara — whose election victory has been acknowledged by the UN, US, France and the African Union — has called on his backers to help him take control of state institutions. They have vowed to march to the national television station yesterday to install a new state TV chief.
The TV building, however, is heavily protected by incumbent Laurent Gbagbo’s troops, and violent confrontation is likely if the two sides meet. Police and soldiers were guarding the building, sealing off streets around it and blocking them with makeshift roadblocks made of wooden tables and benches. Two armored personnel carriers filled with helmeted troops was parked nearby.
Across Abidjan, soldiers and police stood guard at nearly every major intersection.
“The risk for yet more bloodshed and senseless loss of life ... is extremely high,” said Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Dakar, Senegal. “All those concerned must do all they can to prevent this scenario — soldiers and police must be given explicit orders to use restraint and minimum use of force; and the UN must stand ready to fulfill their mandate to protect those being threatened with violence.”
Ouattara also plans a second march today to take back other government buildings and hold a Cabinet meeting. For now, he governs from a hotel guarded by supporters and UN troops.