In an escalation of fierce clashes in Ivory Coast, forces loyal to presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara have attacked the home of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.
Loyalists of the internationally recognised president Ouattara are launching what is being seen as a final push in the main city of Abidjan to topple Mr Gbagbo and those loyal to him. In a matter of days, they have swept south across the county in a bid to oust Mr Gbagbo, who refused to concede last November’s election, and have arrived on his doorstep.
“His house is under attack. That’s for sure. There is a resistance, but it’s under attack,” Mr Ouattara‘s spokesman, Patrick Achi, said.
He added that Gbagbo has remained in his house and “shows no sign of giving up.”
Mr Ouattara’s camp have also seized the nearby headquarters of state broadcaster RTI, which has remained loyal to incumbent Gbagbo.
The station went off air on Thursday evening after hours of fighting near its headquarters in Abidjan.
Residents across the city have said the broadcaster stopped transmitting after repeatedly showing images of Gbagbo and his close entourage.
Mr Ouattara himself appeared on TV hours later, issuing a call to the country’s military forces to back him. He said his troops were on the verge of ousting his arrival.
He said: “Today they are at the doorstep of Abidjan. To all those who are still hesitating, whether you are generals, superior officers, officers, under-officers, rank-and-file soldiers, I ask you to put yourself at the disposal of your country and thereby return to legality.
“There is still time to join your brothers-in-arms, the Republican Forces. The country calls you.”
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France – the former colonial power in Ivory coast said presidential claimant Laurent Gbagbo must stand down at once, end violence and hand over power to rival Alassane Ouattara.
“It is urgent to bring a definitive end to the crisis triggered by Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to recognise his defeat,” President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said in a statement after Sarkozy met key ministers to discuss the crisis in Ivory Coast.
Meanwhile Laurent Gbagbo said ‘he will fight to the end’
“For his ideas, he will go to the end,” spokesman Toussaint Alain told reporters ked if Gbgabo was prepared to die in Ivory Coast.
“He has no intention of standing down or giving up his power. He will in the coming hours have proposals for the armed opposition,” Alain said.
He said Gbgabo was prepared for dialogue with his opponents, but Toussaint did not expand on what form that could take. Alain said he had just spoken to Gbgabo, who was in a “secure location” in Ivory Coast and directing operations.
He declined to say whether Gbagbo was in Abidjan, the scene of fierce fighting on Friday as troops loyal to him fended off attacks by forces seeking to install rival Alassane Ouattara.
Mr Ouattara’s government has ordered the closure of Ivory Coast’s land, air and sea borders until further notice, according to an Interior Ministry statement.
He previously ordered an overnight curfew and reports are emerging that Mr Gbagbo’s forces have ceded control of Abidjan’s airport to United Nations peacekeepers.
A UN peacekeeping spokesman, Michel Bonnardeaux, confirmed that UN troops were at the airport.
“At the request of the civilian airport authorities we sent a platoon of about 30 troops. Initially there was some resistance on the road to get there, but now they are at the airport,” he said.
A British Foreign Office spokesperson warned the situation is extremely tense, he said: “We are gravely concerned by the violence that continues to occur in Abidjan and deplore any loss of life. We call on all sides to exercise restraint. Reports of human rights violations must be investigated and those responsible held to account.”
The U.S. State Department have repeated calls for Gbagbo to stand down.
“It appears that his time is drawing nigh,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “We would urge Mr Gbabgo to read the writing on the wall and to step down now.”