Mon, Mar 14, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Gbagbo forces go on killing spree in Ivory Coast: rivals

AFP, ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST

UN soldiers patrol on the Abobo main road road in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Saturday. Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara stepped up his drive for diplomatic support as rival Laurent Gbagbo’s forces launched a “make or break” offensive.

Photo: AFP

Troops loyal to Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo went on a rampage on Saturday, randomly shelling an area of Abidjan in what his rival’s camp insisted was a show of force as his power dwindles.

As international sanctions cut off his funding and tightened the noose around his command, Gbago troops moved against their opponents in the Abobo District in northern Abidjan.

An official of the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) loyal to Gbagbo said the major offensive was “to rid Abobo of terrorists. It’s make or break.”

However, Patric Achi, spokesman for Gbagbo’s rival, internationally recognized Ivory Coast leader Alassane Ouattara, said that the FDS was “blindly launching artillery, which fell on civilian houses.”

“The majority of those killed are innocent,” he added.

“Gbagbo forces are in this mindset of blind murder because they are cornered. They have their backs against the wall,” he added. “It’s a desperate offensive, it’s crazy. We have the impression that they want the population to pay ... The specter of civil war, of arousing terror is all that remains for them.”

Abobo, a stronghold of support for Ouattara, has seen several demonstrations in favor of their leader and according to residents has in recent days seen a surge in the presence of fighters backing him

The fresh bloodshed came as Ouattara himself continued his foreign tour to gather support from African leaders.

He held talks with the current head of regional bloc ECOWAS, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, late on Friday in Abuja.

Earlier in Addis Ababa, Ouattara had met a panel of African presidents tasked by the African Union (AU) with finding a lasting solution to the Ivory Coast crisis.

The AU on Thursday endorsed Ouattara’s victory, a move immediately rejected by Gbagbo’s camp, who refuse to admit their man lost last November’s presidential election.

Ouattara was due to leave Nigeria on Saturday for Burkina Faso and Senegal, a delegation source said.

He is to brief Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, a former mediator in the Ivory Coast crisis, and Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade on his meetings in the Ethiopian capital and Nigeria, the source said.

Gbagbo supporters on Saturday said that Ouattara was free to return to Ivory Coast whenever he wished.

“He is an Ivorian, he has the right to come and go at any time. He is totally and entirely free to return to Ivory Coast,” said Ahoua Don Mello, a spokesman for Gbagbo, who has refused to concede defeat to Ouattara since the Nov. 28 run-off presidential election.

“We have no interest in undermining the security of a political leader, that would aggravate the situation,” he added.

Heavy gunfire could be heard on Saturday in Abobo and from the neighboring district of Cocody, which is home to Gbagbo and where the country’s public TV station is also based, residents said.

A statement from Gbagbo broadcast on state TV late on Saturday urged the population to stay calm and said that he would make a national address shortly.

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