Ivory Coast's besieged city of Abidjan braces for impending attack
A brief lull in fighting on Sunday allowed UN peacekeepers and French forces in Ivory Coast to evacuate UN personnel and French citizens, as forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara prepared for assault on Abidjan.
(Page 2 of 2)
The first town his "republican forces" took was Duekoue, where the International Committee of the Red Cross says some 800 people were killed. While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the act, calling for a halt to attacking civilians, what exactly took place is far from clear.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The ICRC said the violence was due to "inter-communal" fighting in this region, home to a mish-mash of immigrants from neighboring Liberia, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. The situation has been exacerbated recently by the arrival of tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting elsewhere.
The Roman Catholic charity Caritas said the number of dead was closer to 1,000, but the UN could only confirm 430. Ouattara's camp put the number at 152.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara accuse each other of being involved in the killings, saying they are an example of the other camp's brutality.
One likely scenario in this region, which has a history of ethnic clashes, is that locals took advantage of the power vacuum opened after the conquest of Duékoué. The killings may not have had anything to do with either side in the presidential standoff.
Back in Abidjan, going outside is a perilous venture.
Residents are running low on supplies. Despite the danger, young women could be seen fetching water in basins. Men with plastic bags full of water returned home shirtless, with their hands in the air, to indicate they aren't armed. Rumors passed between frightened families contribute to the unease.
As millions of residents huddled in their homes, the importance of state television as a source of information, misinformation, and propaganda became clear. After being cut on Thursday, state television was restored on Saturday and quickly set to work accusing the French and the UN of arming and transporting Ouattara's fighters. TV showed undated footage of the president jovially drinking coffee with his advisers as if nothing was going on.
Several statements were read calling on Ivorian "youths, men, women, children, and seniors" to congregate at Gbagbo's residence to defend the president with a human shield.
By Sunday evening, almost a thousand people had gathered, singing and dancing, in front of the gates to Gbagbo's compound, saying that they were ready to die for their president.
Only steps away, one resident complained that these supporters had "invaded the neighborhood" and were only going to bring trouble. In the days preceding Ouattara's attack on the city, local youths were outfitted with AK-47s, he said, and now they were amusing themselves by shooting into the air.
"They walk around in the street with a grenade on their belt and a beer in their hand," he said. "It's frightening."