Ivory Coast Rebels Seize State TV, Control Gbagbo Residence

Ivory Coast Rebels Seize State TV, Attack Gbagbo Palace
Forces loyal to the internationally recognized Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara prepare to attack the Presidential Palace in Abidjan. Photographer: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty Images

Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara announced the reopening of the nation’s airspace after forces backing him said they seized the state broadcaster and attacked incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo’s residence.

The Republican Forces now control Gbagbo’s house in the Cocody neighborhood of Abidjan, the commercial capital, said Meite Sindou, a spokesman for Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro. Explosions and gunfire rocked the district and plumes of smoke rose into the sky, residents said.

“There is some resistance from Gbagbo’s side,” Gilles Yabi, West Africa director for International Crisis Group, said by phone from Dakar, Senegal’s capital. “His forces and militias in Abidjan and elsewhere could regain some courage and continue the fight. I wouldn’t say the situation is over yet.”

The Republican Forces entered Abidjan late yesterday after an ultimatum for Gbagbo to accept his Nov. 28 presidential election defeat elapsed. The fighters had swept south from their base in the north of the country in the past two weeks as Gbagbo’s forces defected or retreated to Abidjan. Ouattara yesterday ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew and the closure of all borders, including the airspace.

Gbagbo’s spokesman denied speculation he fled the country.

“He is on Ivoirian territory,” Ahoua Don Mello said in an interview broadcast today on Radio France Internationale. “He has no intention of resigning.”

Reprisal Killings?

Gbagbo’s Republican Guard in the Treichville neighborhood in southern Abidjan and militia in Port Bouet continued to attack pro-Ouattara forces with sniper fire today, leading to “numerous” deaths and injuries, said Corinne Dufka, a Dakar-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“We’re also concerned about reprisal killings by Ouattara forces,” she said by telephone. “We call on both sides to respect the laws of war, and that means detaining instead of executing prisoners.”

Cocoa prices have tumbled 7.4 percent in the past 10 days as traders predict an imminent end to the impasse in the world’s largest cocoa producer. The crisis led the West African nation to default on its $2.3 billion Eurobond, which has rallied 30 percent in 10 days as Ouattara’s forces advance.

The United Nations, the U.S., the African Union and the European Union all recognize Ouattara, 69, as the winner of the nation’s first vote in a decade, while Gbagbo, 65, refuses to step down, alleging voter fraud.

No Amnesty Offer

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters today in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, that offering Gbagbo amnesty as an incentive to step down is “not an issue for consideration right now. The immediate issue is for him to hand over power to Ouattara."

Gbagbo’s whereabouts are unknown, Bernard Valero, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of former colonial power France, told a Paris news conference.

‘‘The security forces around Mr. Gbagbo seem to have abandoned him, after he’d been abandoned by the army leadership,” Valero said. “This creates uncertainty and risk in the town, particularly for looting.”

An elite 1,000-member security unit founded by Gbagbo in 2005 announced today it would defect to Ouattara’s government. The unit, known as the Centre de Commandement des Operations de Securite, or Cecos, called on its members to “rally without further delay to the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast,” according to a statement on its website.

Generals Defect

Even before the Republican Forces entered Abidjan, the head of Gbagbo’s army, General Phillipe Mangou, sought refuge at the residence of the South African ambassador, 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, Alain Lobognon, an adviser to Soro, said by telephone yesterday.

There was a “mass exodus” out of Abidjan as civilians tried to avoid the clashes, the UN Refugee Agency said on its website yesterday.

The UN said it had received “unconfirmed but worrying reports” of human-rights violations committed by the Republican Forces in the western towns of Guiglo and Daloa and in Abidjan. The fighters may have arbitrarily arrested, abducted and extorted money from civilians, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an e-mailed statement.

Rights Violated

Pro-Gbagbo troops have committed “daily” human-rights violations, including the reported burning of two civilians alive, OCHA said. The attacks have focused on people from northern Ivory Coast and neighboring West African countries suspected of supporting Ouattara.

“We thankfully have not seen the massive targeting of West Africans and Ivoirians of northern descent that was suggested by earlier conduct of militias,” HRW’s Dufka said.

Cocoa for May delivery rose for the first day this week, adding $70, or 2.4 percent, to $3,022 per metric ton as of 12:24 p.m. in New York. The price for the beans slumped to an 11-week low yesterday on hopes for a quick resumption in exports, which had been crippled by EU sanctions.

Ivory Coast’s defaulted dollar-denominated bond jumped 4.7 percent to 48.875 cents on the dollar at 4:25 p.m. in Abidjan, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Death Toll

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

About 500 foreign nationals have taken refuge at a French military camp on the outskirts of Abidjan, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Colonel Thierry Burkhard of the French army. A 34-year-old Swedish woman working for the UN mission in Ivory Coast was killed by gunfire in her home in Abidjan last night, Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, said in an e-mailed statement today.

Jan Pieter Ohler, a Dutch diplomat, said youths were looting stores and houses in the wealthy neighborhood of Zone 4.

“The economic damage will be considerable,” he said by phone. “The French army reinforced its deployment in the area and extracted several expats from their homes. There is a real sense of lawlessness.”

African Union Commission President Jean Ping called on Gbagbo to step down “immediately” and hand power to Ouattara, according to an e-mailed statement.

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 yesterday. If he doesn’t, he will be held accountable for violence in the city, Carson said.

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