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Ivory Coast braces for violence

16 December 2010, 11:10

Abidjan - Ivory Coast was braced for violence on Thursday as one of the fragile West African state's two self-declared presidents urged his supporters to march on state television and the seat of government.

Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo's army accused his rival Alassane Ouattara of seeking to provoke a confrontation between civilians and security forces by calling for a march later on Thursday to the broadcaster's Abidjan base.

Both Ouattara and Gbagbo claim to have won last month's election, and both have declared themselves president, triggering fears of new chaos in a country already divided since 2002 into northern and southern armed camps.

"The situation is taking a worrying turn with unfolding events that could lead to widespread violence," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned on Wednesday, according to his spokesperson in New York.

On the eve of the march, witnesses and a health official in the political capital Yamoussoukro told AFP that several pro-Ouattara demonstrators had been shot and wounded when security forces broke up a protest there.

Ouattara was recognised by the international community but is running out of time to assert his rule, with Gbagbo defiantly hanging on to the military, the ministries and the cocoa ports that are the key levers of state power.

Threats to public order

After two weeks of stalemate and increasingly hardline rhetoric from both sides, Ouattara and his would-be prime minister, former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, have called on their supporters to seize RTI television on Thursday.

This drew an ominous response from the army.

"It should be said clearly: These marches characterised by force and hence threats to public order have no other purpose than to oppose innocent citizens against the regular public security forces," a military spokesperson said.

In the pro-Ouattara district of Abobo, tension was running high as police and army reinforcements deployed around government buildings and his partisans declared their determination to take power in the streets.

"The mobilisation will be total," predicted 50-year-old Bakary Kone. "We wanted to head to RTI to sleep there tonight, but we're waiting for word from our prime minister. If we lose faith now, Gbagbo will be there forever."

Ouattara's camp has vowed to move on to take the prime minister's office in the well-defended Plateau district of central Abidjan on Friday.

Notorious supporters

Gbagbo's government has said it will resist, and on Wednesday one of his most notorious supporters, Minister for Youth Charles Ble Goude, mobilised 3 000 of his partisans for a rally in a pro-Ouattara suburb of Abidjan.

Ble Goude is under UN sanctions for his role in organising and leading bloody anti-French and anti-northerner violence in the streets of Abidjan during a previous crisis in 2004.

Rallying his supporters among the "Young Patriots", he dismissed the threat to march on the television station, and mocked Ouattara's supporters.

"They have the United Nations and France with them," he declared on Wednesday to cheers from his street lieutenants. "We have determination with us, and however strong is the army against us, it will be defeated."

Ouattara's shadow government is holed up in a luxury hotel on a golf course in the plush Abidjan suburb of Cocody, protected by UN peacekeepers and former rebel fighters from Soro's northern New Forces.

While he and Soro are popular in the mainly-Muslim north, in the southern commercial capital, they are outgunned by Gbagbo's regulars, in particular the feared Republican Guard and the well-armed Cecos anti-robbery squad.



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