Gunfire erupts in ICoast presidential standoff

December 4, 2010 12:00 am

, ABIDJAN, Dec 4 – Gunfire rattled Ivory Coast\’s main city Saturday as an already bloody election standoff escalated with President Laurent Gbagbo stepping up to crown himself leader for another five years.

Residents reported sustained gunfire overnight in several parts of Abidjan, home to supporters both of Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara whom world powers have hailed as the winner of the disputed presidential polls.

After a nightly curfew passed, angry young Ouattara supporters hit the streets of Abidjan for a second day on Saturday, setting fire to tyres and lumps of wood and putting up barricades.

The United Nations, European Union, United States and others threw their weight behind Ouattara and urged Gbagbo, who has held power for a decade, to make way for his old rival.

But Gbagbo remained defiant and a ceremony was set for midday Saturday to confirm him in office, state television said, broadcasting pictures of Gbagbo meeting military leaders whom it said pledged allegiance to him.

Ouattara claimed victory in the November 28 presidential vote, and declared himself president-elect Friday as the international community backed him.

With Ivorians waiting anxiously to see how the standoff would be resolved, Ouattara urged "all the institutions, notably the armed forces, the gendarmerie and the police, to uphold their mission to protect people and property."

As fears mounted of fresh unrest, exchanges of shots were heard through the night in Abidjan\’s Abobo and Anyama districts, residents said, although source of the gunfire was not immediately clear.

At least 15 people have already been killed since last week in election-related violence, officials said.

In the southern Port-Bouet area, where a French military base and the airport are located, a police patrol exchanged fire with an unknown group, a military source and residents said on Saturday.

Both sides have traded allegations of cheating in last Sunday\’s vote and Gbagbo\’s camp tried to have results annulled in Ouattara\’s northern stronghold, but the United Nations judged the polls sound overall.

The Constitutional Council, the country\’s highest court run by the president\’s allies, nevertheless declared Gbagbo the winner on Friday and his camp threatened to expel the UN envoy.

Gbagbo sealed the country\’s borders and jammed foreign news broadcasts on Thursday and the curfew remained in force in Abidjan but apparently did not prevent the overnight shooting.

The New Forces former rebel movement which controls the north of the country, led by Prime Minister Guillaume Soro who entered Gbagbo\’s government under a peace accord, also backed Ouattara.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Gbagbo "to do his part for the good of the country and to cooperate in a smooth political transition."

Gbagbo\’s camp reacted angrily, showing no sign of giving in and threatening to throw out UN envoy Choi Young-jin.

Security forces were deployed around Abidjan and UN armoured vehicles guarded the hotel housing Ouattara\’s campaign base.

The election aimed to end a decade of instability in Ivory Coast, the world\’s top cocoa producer and formerly west Africa\’s most prosperous country.

It was split in two by a civil war in 2002, when Gbagbo survived an attempted coup. He has continued to rule the country since his term ended in 2005 and elections had been postponed six times.

Gbagbo allies meanwhile fanned the embers of resentment among some Ivorians against outside powers, including former colonial ruler France.

Pro-Gbagbo newspaper Notre Voie on Friday branded the results crowning Ouattara the victor as an attempted French "coup d\’etat" and Gbagbo supporters shouted anti-white slogans in the street.


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