Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara attacked the residence of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan in the early hours of Friday morning, a spokesman for Ouattara’s government said.
“His house is under attack. That’s for sure. There is a resistance, but it’s under attack,” spokesman Patrick Achi told Reuters.
Reports of the attack on Gbagbo’s residence follow hours of fighting between the two factions and statements by Ouattara’s camp that they seized the nearby headquarters of state broadcaster RTI, which went off air late on Thursday evening.
There was no immediate reaction from Gbabgo’s camp.
Heavy fire rang out in central Abidjan after presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara’s forces marched into Cote d’Ivoire’s main city, and his camp said incumbent Laurent Gbagbo had just hours left in power.
As his forces amassed on the outskirts of Abidjan, Ouattara made a final appeal to Gbagbo to step down, and called on the rest of the army to defect.
But those who know Gbagbo well say even an armed onslaught will not make him cede power.
“He has no intention of resigning,” said one of his advisers in Europe, Toussaint Alain.
Gbagbo has refused to step down since a November election that UN-certified results showed he lost to Ouattara, triggering a bloody standoff that has killed hundreds and rekindled the country’s 2002-3 civil war.
“I call on you to serve your country […] It is time to join your brothers in the Republican Forces,” Ouattara said in a statement aimed at encouraging members of the security forces still loyal to Gbagbo to defect.
South Africa’s government said that General Phillippe Mangou, Gbagbo’s army chief of staff, had sought refuge at its ambassador’s residence in Abidjan, in one of the biggest blows yet to Gbagbo’s grip on power.
Ouattara’s government has declared an overnight curfew in Abidjan from Thursday through to Sunday, a senior official said.
Marcel Amon Tano, Ouattara’s chief of staff, said the curfew was needed “for security reasons” and would run from nine o’clock in the evening through to six o’clock in the morning each day.
Seyi Rhodes, a journalist in Abidjan, said the fighting in the city had flared up again after a short lull in the afternoon.
“Most of the shooting is happening in area of the two bridges which link the south part of the city with the north part,” Rhodes told Al Jazeera, adding that “these (bridges) are vital arteries which the rebels will need to capture in order to take the presidential palace”.
|Ouattara made a final appeal to Gbagbo to step down, and called on the rest of the army to defect [Reuters]|
Guillaume Soro, the head of Ouattara’s parallel government, told Reuters news agency that Gbagbo has just 2 to 3 hours left in power.
“Two or three hours and I think it will be finished … the game is over for Gbagbo. It is finished,” Soro said in Yamoussoukro, the country’s official capital which fell to pro-Ouattara forces on Wednesday.
A source at the UN Department of Peacekeeping told Al Jazeera that the UN cannot confirm reports that UN forces have taken control of the airport in Abidjan.
UNOCI confirmed that the embargo around Hotel du Golf, where Ouattara had been held under house arrest for months, has been lifted. The pro-Gbagbo forces that had been surrounding the hotel “just packed up and left” earlier today.
The UN is worried about a vacuum of power and looting that might result in light of dissolution of Gbagbo’s forces.
The UN is therefore preparing to deploy to these areas in Abidjan as soon as possible until Outtara’s forces (or whoever) can take over. Until then, the UN peacekeepers are continuing their patrols as per normal.
French troops deployed
French forces have also deployed in some parts of Abidjan, local residents said. One source said soldiers from the 1,000-strong French force had been deployed in Zone 4, in the south of the city.
A Western military source said others were sent to rescue some French nationals being attacked in the Deux Plateaux neighbourhood by youth supporters of incumbent president Gbagbo. France’s armed forces declined to immediately comment.
Amnesty International warned that civilians in Abidjan were are at immediate risk of ‘massive human rights violations’.
“Abidjan is on the brink of a human rights catastrophe and total chaos,” Salvatore Saguès, Amnesty’s researcher on West Africa, said.
“[…] the parties to the conflict must immediately stop targeting the civilian population,” Saguès said, adding: “The international community must take immediate steps to protect the civilian population.”
Ouattara’s forces took several towns near Abidjan, including the cocoa port of San Pedro, overnight, tightening the noose around Gbagbo, who has resisted previous call to step down.
San Pedro is a strategically important town because it ships half the cocoa beans from the world’s top cocoa grower.
The UN Security Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution demanding an immediate end to the escalating violence in Cote d’Ivoire.
The resolution urges all Ivorian parties to respect the election of Ouattara as president. It condemns Gbagbo’s decision not to accept Ouattara’s election and urged him “to immediately step aside”.
The resolution also slapped a travel ban and asset freeze on Gbagbo, his wife, and three key aides.