Friday, April 01, 2011

Unrest in Ivory Coast!

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France and UN Bear Responsibility for Massacres by Ouattara Forces in Ivory Coast
by Ann Talbot
Global Research, April 11, 2011
World Socialist Web Site
Reports are emerging of systematic attacks on civilians in the west of Ivory Coast, the region where forces loyal to the Western-backed president-elect Alassane Ouattara launched an offensive last month.
Survivors who have escaped over the border into neighbouring Liberia tell of victims being shot or killed with machetes, being disembowelled alive, of women being gang-raped and having their throats cut. More than a million people have fled from their homes.
Initial reports suggested that up to 1,000 people had been killed. Human Rights Watch and the International Red Cross have positively confirmed the deaths of 230 people, including children, in the town of Duékoué. They indicate that there were several hundred more victims in surrounding villages. The final total is not yet known, since there are thought to be a number of mass graves. Survivors report that bodies were buried by bulldozers.
Civil war broke out in Ivory Coast last month, after a protracted dispute over the outcome of the November 2010 presidential elections. Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to recognise that his rival Ouattara had won the election. Ouattara’s claim was recognised internationally. France, the former colonial power, the United Nations, the United States, the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) all declared him the victor and demanded that Gbagbo stand down.
In March Ouattara launched a major offensive against Gbagbo. His forces seized the cocoa-growing area, of which Duékoué is the centre, and rapidly took control of the commercial capital, Abidjan, where they attempted to storm Gbagbo’s residence. Gbagbo repelled the assault and continues to hold out in a bunker. Over the weekend his forces took advantage of a ceasefire to take control of key positions and have attacked Ouattara’s headquarters at the Hotel du Golf.
The role of French and UN forces in Ouattara’s offensive is hotly disputed. Video shows massive explosions
in Abidjan, as their aircraft hit Gbagbo’s positions. His residence reportedly came under bombardment from French and UN aircraft. This is a breach of the UN mandate. United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) is officially a peacekeeping force and has no mandate to target Gbagbo. The French, who have maintained a military presence in Ivory Coast since it became independent in 1960, are mandated to assist UNOCI.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the UN of exceeding its mandate in Ivory Coast and taking sides in support of Ouattara. The AU, which supports Ouattara’s claim to the presidency, has also expressed concern at the actions of UNOCI.
Head of UN peacekeeping operations Alain Le Roy insisted that UNOCI had only attacked positions from which heavy weapons had shelled civilians and the UN forces and claimed that UNOCI had not targeted Gbagbo’s residence, only heavy weapons close to it that had been shelling civilian areas in the city.
But diplomats expressed concern about the involvement of UNOCI in what appears to be giving close air support to Ouattara’s assault on Gbagbo’s residence. “We support the mandate of protecting innocent lives. But we’re worried about whether the resolution is being strictly implemented. It’s difficult to say because we don’t have clear information in terms of what has been targeted”, one African diplomat said.
The BBC pointed out that it was “Mr. Sarkozy who first floated the idea of banning heavy weapons in Ivory Coast. This, coupled with the leading role France played in advocating force in Libya, was seen by some as part of a more muscular military policy to bolster his domestic standing in an election year”.
Writing in the Financial Times, Peggy Hollinger pointed to what she described as “the contradictions of French foreign policy” in Ivory Coast:
“The military operation is France’s second on the African continent in less than a month, leaving many to wonder whether this signals a new, more interventionist policy to rid the continent of unpalatable dictators ... aerial strikes on the presidential palace and the national television station can hardly be described as taking out heavy artillery. There can be no doubt that the French attacks went beyond the principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ and were aimed at helping to oust Mr. Gbagbo and install Mr. Ouattara in his rightful place”.
Hollinger quotes Phyllis Bennis of the Washington-based think tank Institute for Policy Studies, who points out that the timing of the UN-French airstrikes “strengthens the argument that the air strikes are more of a political than a humanitarian intervention”. The operation gives the impression of aiming to “re-establish the French presence in Francophone Africa”.
Hollinger questions whether France’s intervention in Libya and Ivory Coast are part of a consistently new foreign policy, since each has arisen from quite different circumstances. But she recognises that “the impression that France is intervening more overtly in African affairs is having one serious consequence. Public opinion is growing resentful of what it sees as interference by a former colonial power”.
That perception is likely to be enhanced by the association of France and the UN with forces that have carried out atrocities against civilians. The responsibility for the massacres of civilians must be laid at the door of France and the UN because they have condoned, and possibly actively supported, Ouattara’s military campaign.
Survivors describe deliberate killings directed against ethnic groups that are perceived to be supporters of Gbagbo. Journalists are drawing parallels with Rwanda. The scale of the massacres is as yet smaller, but there too France was implicated in the killings.
The London Times quoted Emmanuel Guer who said, “We were marched to a compound in the town. When we arrived there were 150 people in the hall. At the front they were dragging people out, men and women, in fives, five after five after five. Each time they were taken out we heard gunfire”.
Guer went on, “How can I describe what it was like? We were squeezed in like cattle, all you could see in the dark were bulging eyes, women were crying hysterically. People fought to get further back in the queue. They were killing us in a really thought-out way. It was extermination”.
“They were shooting them in the back of the head and then dragging the bodies off”, he said. “But it was taking a long time for them to do it. Eventually me and six others fought our way out of a back window and escaped over a fence. As we ran towards the highway, the road was lined with the dead. Many of the women had their throats cut”.
Pierre M’lehi, a cocoa planter, described a bulldozer digging mass graves in Duékoué: “The corpses lined up along the roadside were fresh and rotting. It was as if they had been put there as a warning”.
One woman described how elderly captives were taken out each day and shot. Old people seem to have particularly vulnerable because they were too feeble to escape. Crops and houses seem to have been burnt in at least 10 villages around Toulépleu and Bloléqui in the western region. Those targeted appear to belong mainly to the Guere ethnic group and are regarded as supporters of Gbagbo.
Youssoufou Bamba, Ouattara’s ambassador to the UN, claimed that pro-Gbagbo forces were responsible for atrocities. According to Bamba, UNOCI forces and the aid agencies had been forced to leave the area because of the poor security situation under Gbagbo.
“It was only when (Ouattara’s forces) came in that all the NGOs, as well as the UNOCI, could come back to monitor the situation”, he claimed.
Gbagbo’s forces had continued to commit atrocities, he alleged, as they retreated. He denied that communal violence between different ethnic groups in the area could be blamed on Ouattara’s forces.
In fact, UN forces were present in the area at the time of the massacres. What their role was is still not clear, but their mandate is to protect the civilian population and, at the very least, they failed in this.
Civilians are also at risk in Abidjan. Dead bodies can be seen in the streets. Militia groups loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara are active in the city. How many died as a result of UN and French air attacks is not known. Huge explosions were caught on video, suggesting that the number of casualties when it is possible to count them will be significant.
Over the weekend many embassies began to evacuate their staff as the situation in Abidjan deteriorated. The US State Department repeated its travel warning for Ivory Coast because fighting had become “more intense in a number of neighborhoods”.
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Ivory Coast strongman Gbagbo surrenders after weeks of bloody fighting
Marco Chown Oved
ABIDJAN— The Associated Press
Published Monday, Apr. 11, 2011
A bloody, four-month political standoff ended Monday when troops loyal to Ivory Coast's elected president — backed by French ground and air forces — captured the West African country's longtime leader who had refused to give up power.
Video of former President Laurent Gbagbo being led into a room in a white undershirt was broadcast on television as proof of his detention. He would not sign a statement formally ceding power after losing a Nov. 28 election to economist Alassane Ouattara.
More than 1 million civilians fled their homes and untold numbers were killed in the power struggle between the two rivals that threatened to re-ignite a civil war in the world's largest cocoa producer. Gbagbo's security forces have been accused of using cannons, 60 mm mortars and 50-caliber machine guns to mow down opponents during the standoff.
President Barack Obama welcomed Mr. Gbagbo's capture, calling it a victory for the democratic will of the Ivorian people, who “have the chance to begin to reclaim their country, solidify their democracy and rebuild a vibrant economy.”
Mr. Gbagbo, who ruled the former French colony for a decade, was pulled from his burning residence by Mr. Ouattara's troops following fighting earlier in the day.
Residents of the commercial capital of Abidjan refrained from celebrating in public, still fearful of the many armed fighters prowling the streets and refusing to believe their leader had been arrested. Sporadic gunfire echoed across the city Monday night.
Mr. Gbagbo, 65, could be forced to answer for his soldiers' crimes, even though an international trial threatens to stoke the divisions that Ouattara will now have to heal as president.
Mr. Gbagbo's dramatic arrest came after days of heavy fighting in which French and UN helicopters fired rockets at arms depots around the city and targets within the presidential compound. Mr. Ouattara's final push began just after French air strikes ceased at around 3 a.m. Monday. A simultaneous French armoured advance secured large parts of the city, and pro-Ouattara troops entered the presidential compound just after midday.
“We attacked and forced in a part of the bunker,” Issard Soumahro, a pro-Ouattara fighter at the scene, told The Associated Press.
He added that Mr. Gbagbo was tired and had been slapped by a soldier, but was not otherwise hurt.
Another pro-Ouattara fighter, Yaya Toure, said the assault was “hard in the beginning but we got up our courage to enter” the residence.
Mr. Gbagbo “tried to escape by the lagoon,” Mr. Toure said, adding that the French forces in helicopters “cut off his escape route, so he came back to his residence.”
“Then in the residence, we went in and took him,” he said. “It wasn't the whites (the French) who took him — it was us.”
Other pro-Ouattara soldiers wore a few smiles, but mostly the men continued to concentrate on clearing the city of armed gangs.
Witnesses at the nearby Golf Hotel said Mr. Gbagbo was brought in with his wife, son and about 50 members of his entourage.
“The nightmare is over for the people of Ivory Coast,” Youssoufou Bamba, appointed by Mr. Ouattara as the country's UN ambassador, said in New York. Mr. Bamba declared that Mr. Gbagbo will be brought to justice.
In the western town of Duekoue, pro-Ouattara forces fired into the air in jubilation, panicking refugees who fled in all directions or fell to the ground in terror. In villages east of Duekoue, people danced in the streets, waving tree branches. In one village, young men paraded with the orange, white and green Ivorian flag.
“This is an end of a chapter that should never have been,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “We have to help them to restore stability, rule of law, and address all humanitarian and security issues.”
Mr. Ouattara's ambassador to France, Ali Coulibaly, told France-Info radio that Mr. Gbagbo would be “treated with humanity,” adding that the former leader “must answer for the crimes against humanity that he committed.”
Some critics of Mr. Gbagbo had accused him of clinging to power in part to avoid prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
Ivan Simonovic, assistant secretary-general for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters that teams from his office saw the bodies of around 400 people even before the wave of violence that culminated in Mr. Gbagbo's arrest.
The UN rights official says he discussed the importance of filling the security vacuum with Mr. Ouattara, 69, and his ministers during a visit to the country last week.
Mr. Ouattara has called for police to return to their posts, for all Ivorians to refrain from political reprisals, and announced severe punishment for those who retaliate, Mr. Simonovic said.
He said Ouattara seemed “very much interested” in the High Commissioner's support for a truth and reconciliation commission to examine the conflict.
“I think it is essential to break the cycle of impunity and retaliation,” Mr. Simonovic said. “If after the conflict
in 2002 we had established truth and accountability, perhaps we would have prevented what has happened now.”
Geoffrey Robertson, a British-based human rights lawyer and former president of UN special court for Sierra Leone, said the U.N. must protect Mr. Gbagbo from his own people and then transfer him to The Hague for investigation for launching an attack on the UN headquarters in Ivory Coast and against the civilians that the UN was protecting.
Richard Downie, an Africa expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it will be difficult for Ivory Coast to put Mr. Gbagbo on trial, adding that it would “probably be a lightning rod for more unrest.”
Mr. Ouattara “didn't want to come to power this way, through the barrel of a gun,” Mr. Downie said. “He was elected fairly and freely. But this is the situation he was dealt. It's going to be incredibly difficult for him to bring the country together.”
Ivory Coast was divided into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south by a 2002-2003 civil war and was officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal. The long-delayed presidential election was intended to bring together the nation but instead unleashed months of violence.
Mr. Gbagbo already had overstayed his mandate by five years when he called the fall election and won 46 per cent of the runoff vote. When the country's election commission and international observers declared on Dec. 2 that he lost the balloting, he refused to step down.
The former history professor defied near-universal international pressure to hand over power to Mr. Ouattara. The two set up parallel administrations that vied for control of the onetime West African economic powerhouse.
Mr. Ouattara drew his support from the UN and world powers. Mr. Gbagbo maintained his hold over the country's military and security forces who carried out a campaign of terror, kidnapping, killing and raping opponents.
Mr. Gbagbo wrapped himself in the country's flag as he took the oath of office at his inauguration.
“No one has the right to call on foreign armies to invade his country,” Mr. Gbagbo declared in a TV address on Dec. 31. “Our greatest duty to our country is to defend it from foreign attack.”
Ivory Coast gained independence from France in 1960, and some 20,000 French citizens lived there when the civil war broke out.
French troops were then given the task by the UN of monitoring a cease-fire and protecting foreign nationals in Ivory Coast, which was once an economic star but faded under Mr. Gbagbo.
Since late March, thousands of French and foreign nationals in Abidjan were evacuated by French tanks and helicopters to an army base on the edge of the city, where a refugee camp was set up for the privileged. Regular Ivorians were not permitted at the camp, and many ran out of food and water, forcing hungry people onto the streets during the fighting.
Mr. Gbagbo had described efforts against him as tantamount to a foreign coup d'état.
The French government sought to distance itself from Mr. Gbagbo's arrest.
“France intervened at the request of the United Nations secretary-general to neutralize the heavy weapons that Mr. Gbagbo was using against the civilian population and against (UN peacekeepers),” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. “After that, it was the Ivory Coast republican forces, including Mr. Ouattara's troops, who entered the presidential residence and arrested Mr. Gbagbo.”
Other West African nations had considered military intervention to remove Mr. Gbagbo, but those efforts never materialized. Sanctions imposed on Mr. Gbagbo and his inner circle by the U.S. and European Union failed to dislodge him.
While the UN passed resolutions allowing its peacekeepers to intervene to protect civilians, anti-Gbagbo neighbourhoods in Abidjan continued to be pummelled with mortar shells. So many people were killed that the local morgue had to stack corpses on the floor.
Mr. Ouattara tried to assert his authority from the Golf Hotel, protected by UN peacekeepers, and imposed an embargo on cocoa exports in a bid to strangle Mr. Gbagbo financially. In a desperation, Mr. Gbagbo seized control of foreign banks in Abidjan — prompting their flight and a liquidity crunch.
In the heartland of Mr. Gbagbo's Bete tribe, people were subdued. A small group of dancing youths in the village of Karriere shouted expletives about Mr. Gbagbo and chanted, “They fished Gbagbo out of his hole.”
Other people repeated Mr. Ouattara's initials over and over, chanting “A.D.O. is our president!”
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Hundreds killed as battle for Ivory Coast turns streets into war zones
By the CNN Wire Staff
April 1, 2011
(CNN) -- Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara took control of state-run television and attacked the residence of Laurent Gbagbo on Friday as Ivory Coast's bloody, four-month battle for political power appeared to enter its final stages .
Artillery and mortars joined the cacophony of gunfire Friday in Abidjan, the nation's commercial center and largest city, witnesses said. French and United Nations troops beefed up their presence on the streets to fill a security vacuum.
"The situation on the streets has deteriorated to such an extent that it's just become too dangerous to go outside," said Henry Gray, a field coordinator with the humanitarian medical group Doctors Without Borders, who called his organization while in lockdown. "There's a lot of pillaging and looting going on, and if you're out on the streets, you're basically a target."
And the violence isn't isolated to Abidjan. At least 800 people were killed Tuesday in the fight for control of Ivory Coast's western city of Duekoue, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday.
The whereabouts of Gbagbo, who refused to cede power after a disputed November election, were not known. The French ambassador to Ivory Coast said on France Info radio that Gbagbo's residence was empty.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast has been in contact with both Ouattara and Gbagbo in an effort to ensure a peaceful resolution.
"I cannot confirm anything about any exit of Laurent Gbagbo," Haq said.
Gbagbo adviser Abdon Bayeto blamed the United Nations and global leaders including France and the United States for Ivory Coast's bloodshed by recognizing Ouattara as the legitimate president.
Ouattara knows he lost the election, Bayeto said, adding that Gbagbo is a true democrat.
"For 30 years there was no trouble in the country," he said. "We are going to be victorious."
The chances for that victory appeared slim Friday after pro-Ouattara forces launched a massive offensive in a final push to oust Gbagbo.
Gbagbo had been expected to appear on state-run television, but the embattled president has not been seen in public for days and the TV network -- accused of having incited post-election violence -- went dark Friday after pro-Ouattara forces attacked the building and took control.
Ouattara, the internationally recognized president, had been confined to a United Nations-protected hotel in Abidjan. Gbagbo's siege of the hotel ended Thursday after pro-Ouattara forces carried a nationwide offensive to Abidjan.
Ouattara declared evening-into-morning curfews for Friday and Saturday in Abidjan. Ouattara's interior minister also announced on radio that the air and sea borders of the country would be sealed until further notice.
It will be only "hours, maybe days" before Gbagbo falls, predicted Ouattara's spokesman, Patrich Achi. "The army does not want to fight for Laurent Gbagbo."
The African Union called again Friday for Gbagbo "to immediately hand over power."
"Gbagbo's days are numbered because he overstayed his welcome," Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told CNN. Odinga has served as the African Union's main negotiator in Ivory Coast. "The will of the Ivorian people must finally prevail."
Events in Ivory Coast are sure to have critical implications for the immediate region and all of Africa.
The nation had been on the rebound from a 2002 civil war and the elections last year inspired expectations that the cocoa-producing nation would embark on a new chapter that would take it closer to becoming a stable democracy.
But the post-election chaos does not bode well for other African nations struggling to become stronger democracies. And thousands of people have crossed into neighboring nations including Liberia, which is trying to hold onto its own fragile peace.
An Abidjan resident told CNN that most of the city's 4 million residents were huddled inside their homes Friday with no access to information since national broadcasting was off the air. The resident was not identified because of security reasons.
"Armed gangs are out on the street and there is a real atmosphere of fear out in the community, particularly in the poorer areas," Gray said. "It's weird, because Abidjan is actually a really nice city with well-maintained roads and nice bridges and big buildings."
Documentary filmmaker Seyi Rhodes said Abidjan, a city that never slept before the turmoil erupted, was empty and bleak. International journalists covering the conflict did not dare venture out from their hotel Friday.
Abidjan has become a city divided where it is difficult to decipher loyalty, Rhodes said.
"There is nothing now," said Rhodes, who had visited the city before the conflict. "Abidjan is a shadow of its former self."
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported an exodus of more people Thursday.
"Heavy fighting, widespread human rights abuses and fear of war have already forced up to 1 million people to flee their homes in Abidjan," the report said.
Some 500 foreigners, including 150 French citizens, sought refuge Thursday at a French military camp, said a spokeswoman for the French Defense Ministry.
A Swedish employee of the United Nations was killed in Thursday's fighting in Abidjan, said Joakim Larsson, a spokesman at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"She was in her home when she was hit by a bullet which killed her," Larsson said.
Before Friday's revelation of the 800 or so deaths in Duekoue, human rights monitors had documented the deaths of 462 people -- some in heinous fashion -- and warned Abidjan is on the brink of catastrophe.
"The international community must take immediate steps to protect the civilian population," said Salvatore Sagues, Amnesty International's researcher on West Africa.
Republican Forces wrested control of much of Yamoussoukro and other key cocoa-producing and port cities earlier in the week before marching to Abidjan, the commercial center of Ivory Coast.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights reported Friday that the agency had received "unconfirmed but worrying reports" that Republican Forces have been committing human rights violations in their advance to Abidjan, especially in the Guiglo and Daloa areas in western Ivory Coast. Among the complaints were arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of civilians.
Similar abuse accusations have been leveled at Gbagbo's men in Abidjan, the agency said.
Concerned about the rising tide of violence, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to impose sanctions on Gbagbo, his wife and three associates, as well as give U.N. peacekeepers more authority to protect civilians.
The U.N. resolution demands that Gbagbo step down immediately and that all state institutions, including the military, accept Ouattara as president. It also authorizes U.N. peacekeepers "to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of violence."
CNN's Zain Verjee, Carey Bodenheimer, Christabelle Fombu and Moni Basu contributed to this report.
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Rebels circle Ivory Coast president's palace
Forces backing internationally recognized presidential-vote winner battle those loyal to incumbent strongman
msnbc.com news services
01 April 2011
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42374008/ns/world_news-africa/
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Troops loyal to under-fire Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo battle his rival's army in the heart of the capital, Abidjan, on Friday. Gbagbo has refused to relinquish the presidency despite being defeated in an internationally recognized general election.
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ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Laurent Gbagbo's 10-year grip on the Ivory Coast seemed on the verge of
collapse Friday after fighters encircled both his residence and the presidential palace and battled to unseat the man who has refused to recognize his defeat in last year's election.
Even in the face of a rapid military advance that has swept across Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, and arrived at his doorstep, Gbagbo rejected calls to step down.
His aides defiantly said they will never give in, even though nearly 80 percent of the country and now large swaths of its largest city are controlled by an armed group fighting to install the internationally recognized winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara.
"There is no question of ceding," said Gbagbo's presidential aide, Fred Anderson. "It's not up to the international community to impose our leader."
The boom of heavy weapons fire rang out constantly from near Gbagbo's residence and presidential palace, as well as two major military bases — turning Ivory Coast's main city into a war zone.
"We can hear shooting and see soldiers moving but there are also armed civilians running in the streets," said Camara Arnold, a resident of Cocody, the neighborhood that is home to the state television building and Gbagbo's residence.
Two white MI-24 attack helicopters belonging to the United Nations peacekeeping mission circled above central Abidjan's palm-fringed lagoon, but did not intervene.
In the neighborhood, families slept in bathrooms and on the floor as successive blasts punctuated the all-night assault.
People living near the presidential palace a few miles to the west were awakened by a barrage of explosions, some so strong they made the walls of buildings tremble.
During the day, machine-gun fire could be heard at either end of the waterside highway
leading to the palace. It is strategically located on a peninsula surrounded on all sides by a lagoon, and military vehicles mounted with rocket launchers sped by while Mi-24 helicopters circled.
Gbagbo delayed the November election by five years, canceling it every year only to promise, but fail, to hold it the next. Ouattara's victory with 54 percent of the vote was recognized first by the country's electoral commission and then by the United Nations, which pored over thousands of tally sheets before certifying the results. He has been recognized by governments around the world, and leaders from U.S. President Barack Obama to French President Nicolas Sarkozy have made personal appeals to Gbagbo to step down.
"This turn of events is a direct consequence of the intransigence of the outgoing president, Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, who has repeatedly refused to heed calls for him to cede the reins of power in the country to the president-elect, Mr. Alassane Ouattara," said a statement Friday by the regional Economic Community of West African States.
Gbagbo, 65, has not been seen in public since the offensive began five days ago, but those in his inner circle
say he is still in Abidjan and will fight until the end. It's unclear where he is holed up, with Ouattara's camp speculating he is in a bunker in the palace.
Reached by telephone, however, one of Gbagbo's closest associates, Foreign Minister Alcide Djeje, said he was at Gbagbo's side at the presidential residence in Cocody.
Cocody resident Yeo N'Dri said Friday that he could see a thick column of smoke rising from the area where the residence is located. Abidjan was at a standstill, with people barricaded indoors.
The few cars on the streets had their emergency lights flashing. Some drivers held their right hand on the wheel and their left hand pointed outside to signal that they aren't armed.
Ouattara ordered land and sea borders closed to seal all the exits in case Gbagbo attempts to flee, said Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marie Kakou-Gervais.
"His inner circle is trying to run, but they won't be able to," he said.
The brewing civil war no one is talking about
At least 1 million people have fled Abidjan and 494 have been killed during the four months of violence waged by Gbagbo's security forces. Early on, world leaders offered him amnesty and a golden parachute in return for leaving peacefully. The United Nations has said his regime will be investigated for possible crimes against humanity.
Members of Ouattara's administration said the battle would already be over if Ouattara had not given specific instructions to not harm Gbagbo.
"It is not our wish to kill him," Kakou-Gervais said. "We would like the Red Cross to be a witness. We invite them to be with us when we take him."
For most of the standoff, it was Gbagbo's security forces that committed abuses against civilians, according to visits to local morgues by The Associated Press, eyewitness reports by AP reporters and photographers, and interviews with Ivorians and human rights officials. Those reports bolstered Ouattara's international stature, and his supporters only recently started to arm themselves and fight back.
That could change now that Ouattara has accepted help from a northern-based rebel group, whose members make up the majority of the fighters now assaulting Abidjan.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again called on Gbagbo to step down and transfer power to Ouattara, telling reporters in Nairobi, Kenya, that "there has been too much bloodshed, including hundreds of civilians killed or wounded."
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has received "unconfirmed but worrying reports" that the pro-Ouattara force "has been committing human rights violations" during the advance toward Abidjan.
He added: "The human rights office also says pro-Gbagbo forces have continued to commit violations on a daily basis."
U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast killed at least five soldiers loyal to Gbagbo during a clash in Abidjan, while three peacekeepers were injured in a separate incident, according to an internal U.N. document seen by Reuters on Friday.
While total figures for dead and wounded were unavailable, Doctors Without Borders said it had treated at least 80 people over the past two days, most of them suffering from gunshot wounds.
Since the disputed election, Ouattara had worked to rally international support for an armed intervention led by either the U.N. or a regional force to avoid the impression that he had taken the country by violent means. Ouattara's aides said he exhausted all diplomatic options before giving the armed group the go-ahead.
Attacking from the west, the center and the east, the fighters took towns with almost no resistance, seizing more than three-quarters of the country in four days. By the time the military vehicles crossed into Abidjan early Friday, as many as 50,000 members of Gbagbo's security forces had deserted, according to the top U.N. envoy in Ivory Coast, Choi Young-jin.
Gbagbo is still backed by the well-armed Republican Guard and several elite units.
"Do we expect him to go soon? I mean, that's impossible for us to predict from Washington, but it appears that his time is drawing nigh," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "We would just urge Mr. Gbagbo to read the writing on the wall."
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