Ivory Coast Rebels Fight for Gbagbo’s Stronghold Abidjan

Fighters loyal to Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara entered Laurent Gbagbo’s last stronghold, Abidjan, as they move to oust the incumbent leader.

The so-called Republican Forces have swept south over the past week, meeting little resistance from forces loyal to Gbagbo. Fighters seized control of state-run Radio Television Ivorienne in Abidjan, Agence France-Presse reported early today, citing Captain Leon Kouakou Alla, a spokesman for Ouattara’s defense minister.

Ouattara’s forces have captured San Pedro, one of two major cocoa-exporting ports, and Yamoussoukro, the political capital, in the past two days, raising hopes that a four-month political crisis may soon be over. The impasse in the world’s largest cocoa producer had driven up prices of the chocolate ingredient and led the West African nation to default on its Eurobond.

The United Nations, the U.S., the African Union and the European Union all recognize Ouattara, 69, as the winner of the Nov. 28 election, while Gbagbo, 65, refuses to step down, alleging voter fraud.

Ouattara yesterday ordered an overnight curfew and the closure of all borders, according to an e-mailed statement. Unidentified gunmen fired at the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission in Abidjan late yesterday, UN spokesman Hamadoun Toure said in a phone interview.

Losing Support

Ouattara’s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro planned to enter Abidjan with the Republican Forces after an ultimatum for Gbagbo to quit lapsed at 7 p.m. local time, his adviser, Alain Lobognon, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Even before the troops entered Abidjan, the head of Gbagbo’s army, General Phillipe Mangou, sought refuge at the residence of the South African ambassador, according to the Pretoria-based Foreign Ministry said.

In another blow to Gbagbo, General Edouard Tiape Kassarate, head of the military police, defected to Ouattara’s administration at its headquarters in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, Lobognon said. The loyalty of the armed forces had enabled Gbagbo to defy international isolation and hold onto power since disputing his loss in the November vote.

“I’m not sure Gbagbo is in control any longer,” said Rinaldo Depagne, a Dakar-based analyst for International Crisis Group. “The first step for a peaceful outcome is Gbagbo coming and saying ‘I quit’.”

Cocoa and Bonds

Cocoa for May delivery slumped to an 11-week low yesterday on hopes for a quick resumption in exports. The price dropped $35, or 1.2 percent, to $2,952 per metric ton as of the end of trading in New York.

Ivory Coast’s defaulted dollar-denominated bond rallied 9.9 percent to 47.375 cents on the dollar at the end of trading yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It has gained 22 percent since March 22.

Ouattara called for soldiers loyal to Gbagbo to lay down their arms.

“I ask you to put yourself in the hands of your country and rejoin legality,” said Ouattara, in a video of a speech distributed by his staff. “Your country calls you.”

Soldiers remain near the presidential palace in Abidjan and Gbagbo’s residence, AFP reported, citing Choi Young-Jin, head of the UN mission in the West African country. A blockade of the Golf Hotel, where Ouattara has been holed up under the protection of the UN, has been lifted, AFP said.

‘Catastrophe’

“Abidjan is on the brink of a human rights catastrophe and total chaos,” Salvatore Sagues, a West Africa researcher for London-based Amnesty International, said in an e-mailed statement. “The international community must take immediate steps to protect the civilian population.”

At least 494 people have died in the conflict so far, the United Nations said in an e-mailed statement. Retreating Liberian mercenaries committed arbitrary executions and looted towns, especially around the western town of Guiglo, it said.

The UN Security Council voted 15-0 this week to freeze Gbagbo’s foreign assets and bar travel by him, his wife Simone, and top aides Desire Tagro, Alcide Djedje and Pascal Affi N’Guessan.

Gbagbo still has “an opportunity to step aside and avoid bloodshed,” Johnnie Carson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters in Washington. If he doesn’t he will be held accountable for violence in the city, Carson said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Olivier Monnier in Abidjan at omonnier@bloomberg.net; Pauline Bax in Abidjan at pbax@bloomberg.net; Franz Wild in Johannesburg at fwild@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net

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