Residents await Ivory Coast’s final battle

Residents barricaded themselves inside their homes Sunday, blanketing windows and pushing furniture against doors as this country on Africa’s western coast tensely awaited the final battle between the two men who claim the presidency.

Residents barricaded themselves inside their homes Sunday, blanketing windows and pushing furniture against doors as this country on Africa’s western coast tensely awaited the final battle between the two men who claim the presidency.

Fighters backing the internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara, amassed at a tollbooth on the city’s northern edge, preparing for the final assault.

Their leader was declared the winner of last November’s election, but Ouattara has not been able to assume office because outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo is refusing to yield power.

Water has been cut off to much of Abidjan, and on the empty streets, a handful of women with basins could be seen hurriedly crossing the waterfront highway to reach the lagoon.

Men ventured out with plastic bags to scoop up water, holding the bags high in the air to signal to soldiers in firing positions that they were not armed.

Only about 20 miles separates the thousands of pro-Ouattara foot soldiers readying for battle from the lagoonside district where the presidential palace and mansion are located.

A resident of the Cocody neighbourhood where the mansion is located said around 700 Gbagbo supporters had gathered at the gates of the compound Sunday, after state television, still controlled by the entrenched ruler, called on the population to form a human shield to protect the presidential palace. The resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said the supporters had been armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

Toussaint Alain, Gbagbo’s representative in Europe, told reporters in Paris that Gbagbo is not giving up.

“President Gbagbo, I have said, is at the residence of the head of state, his usual workplace, and he is managing the crisis with teams that have been put into place to deal with this aggression coming from the outside,” Alain said.

“It’s not up to America or France to decide who must lead the Ivory Coast.”

The international community has been nearly unanimous in backing Ouattara, whose win with over 54 per cent of the vote was confirmed by Ivorian election officials and a 900-strong United Nations observation mission.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Gbagbo to step down immediately. She expressed concern about a massacre in the western town of Duekoue, where U.N. investigators said Sunday at least 430 people were killed last week, after pro-Ouattara forces moved in. It’s unclear which side committed the killings, with both camps denying responsibility.

In Nairobi, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated the call.

“There has been too much bloodshed,” Ban said. “I renew my call on Mr. Gbagbo to step down to avoid further violence and transfer power immediately to the legitimate general candidate president Ouattara.”

As the city waited tensely, many people were running out of food. One woman blocked inside her office when the violence erupted said she survived for four days on a pack of diet cookies, a bottle of whiskey and a few cans of soda.

The armed group backing Ouattara began its advance on the city six days ago, taking nearly 80 per cent of the country before reaching the perimeter of Abidjan.

Heavy artillery could be heard for days. In neighbourhoods near the palace, the explosions were loud enough to make walls shake.

At the Malian Embassy, more than 2,000 Malian nationals have taken refuge after Gbagbo’s forces began attacking citizens of neighbouring African nations. Mali, like most countries in Africa, has followed the United Nations position, calling on Gbagbo to step down and angering his supporters, who have carried out revenge killings.

“People are sleeping in the basement and in the halls. There’s no more room,” said Nouhou Diallo, a Malian community leader huddled inside.

“The water was cut off yesterday. We’re scared to go out but we were so thirsty today that some of us ran across the road to get water from the lagoon.”

The United Nations began evacuating 200 employees by helicopter, relocating them in a city in the north controlled by Ouattara.

On Sunday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that he had arranged for all French citizens in Ivory Coast to meet at a single location to guarantee their safety.

Cmdr. Frederic Daguillon, military spokesman for the French base here, confirmed that French forces had occupied the Abidjan airport, in hopes of allowing the return of commercial flights so foreign citizens could be evacuated.

Even if the airport is now secure, however, it was close to impossible to reach.

Troops loyal to the defiant Gbagbo opened fire with automatic weapons on a three-car convoy that attempted to drive through Abidjan on Sunday morning, blasting out the windows and wounding one of the passengers, said driver Ahmed Yoda.

A United Nations armoured personnel carrier was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade a day earlier, seriously injuring four peacekeepers.

Even diplomats were stranded. A consular officer living in a diplomatic residence not far from the besieged palace said she filled her bathtub with water and had been using it for washing and drinking for the past three days.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The QEII was closed Sunday morning due to a pole fire. (Photo courtesy City of Red Deer)
UPDATE: QEII near Red Deer reopens

The QEII has been reopened after being closed due to a pole… Continue reading

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Bashaw RCMP investigate fatal collision in central Alberta

Bashaw RCMP are investigating after a fatal collision Saturday afternoon. Police were… Continue reading

A damaged unicorn statue is shown in a field outside of Delia, Alta. in this undated handout photo. It's not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast had been located in a field not far from where he'd been taken. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

DELIA, Alta. — It’s not often police can report that a unicorn… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Federal government to send health-care workers to Ontario, Trudeau says

MONTREAL — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says federal departments and some Canadian… Continue reading

People cross a busy street in the shopping district of Flushing on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in the Queens borough of New York. Access to the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States is growing by the day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kathy Willens
Despite COVID-19 vaccines, Americans in D.C. not feeling celebratory — or charitable

WASHINGTON — This might make Canadians jealous of their American cousins for… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Half of U.S. adults have received at least one COVID-19 shot

WASHINGTON — Half of all adults in the U.S. have received at… Continue reading

A man pays his respects at a roadside memorial in Portapique, N.S. on Thursday, April 23, 2021. RCMP say at least 22 people are dead after a man who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser, went on a murder rampage in Portapique and several other Nova Scotia communities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Memorial service in Nova Scotia marks one year since mass shooting started

TRURO, N.S. — A memorial service is planned for today in central… Continue reading

In this April 23, 2016, photo, David Goethel sorts cod and haddock while fishing off the coast of New Hampshire. To Goethel, cod represents his identity, his ticket to middle class life, and his link to one the country's most historic industries, a fisherman who has caught New England's most recognized fish for more than 30 years. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
‘It’s more than just a fish:’ Scientists worry cod will never come back in N.L.

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The latest assessment of Atlantic cod stocks, whose… Continue reading

FILE - In this Friday Aug. 21, 2020 file photo, Leonid Volkov, a top strategist for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, addresses the media in Berlin, Germany. Activists for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are calling for massive protests in the heart of Moscow and St. Petersburg as Navalny's health reportedly is deteriorating severely while on hunger strike. Leonid Volkov, a top strategist for Navalny, said the demonstrations are called on short notice for Wednesday April 21, 2021, because "his life hangs in the balance. ... We don't know how long he can hold on." (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
Navalny’s team calls protests amid reports of failing health

MOSCOW — Associates of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called Sunday… Continue reading

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference Sunday, April 4, 2021, at the Manatee County Emergency Management office in Palmetto, Fla. DeSantis has received a single-dose coronavirus vaccine. His office confirmed Wednesday, April 7, 2021 that the Republican governor got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only a single dose. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, file)
GOP White House hopefuls move forward as Trump considers run

WASHINGTON — Less than three months after former President Donald Trump left… Continue reading

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Most Read