In Ivory Coast, Gbagbo's forces defect en masse: reports

Forces loyal to Ivory Coast's renegade President Laurent Gbagbo appeared ready to combat Thursday's lightning-quick rebel advance. Instead, thousands seem to have defected.

By , Correspondent

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    In Ivory Coast, soldiers loyal to Laurent Gbagbo patrol a street in Abidjan on March 31.
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Celebrations are breaking out across Ivory Coast today as forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara seize city after city in a lightning-fast march to end the reign of renegade incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr. Gbagbo has sat in the presidential palace for eleven years, using his army and youth militia to outlast a foiled coup and a 2002-03 civil war while presiding over a decade of economic stagnation and, finally, a Nov. 28 electoral defeat that he refused to acknowledge.

After months of waiting for a concession speech that never came, rebels last week launched an offensive deep into southern Ivory Coast, from whence Gbagbo hails.

Just hours ago, Gbagbo's armed forces appeared ready to respond, dragging the country deeper into a second, more vicious civil war on behalf of their defiant president.

Instead, they appear to have evaporated. Some 50,000 police thought to be loyal to Gbagbo have deserted, reports Agence France-Presse.

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In the capital, Yamoussoukro, which the rebels took with hardly a shot, they spun donuts in the city center in jeeps as civilians cheered. Hours later, they took San Pedro, the key port through which 40 percent of the world's cocoa flows.

Rebels taking Gbagbo's hometown spent the night in his vacation villa.

As of this writing, they even appeared to have begun taking Abidjan, once the "Jewel of Africa," and still the country's most important city.

Gbagbo's army chief sought asylum in the South African embassy last night. And the leader of Gbagbo's youth militia, Charles Blé Goudé, has reportedly asked Angola for a visa.

Gbagbo's remaining entourage, however, appears ready to dig in its heels. How hard his most loyal forces will fight could determine the scale of the humanitarian disaster already underway.

The United States said Thursday that Gbagbo will be held responsible for clashes in Abidjan.

"If there is major violence in Abidjan and Gbagbo does not step aside, he and those around him, including his wife Simone Gbagbo, will have to be held accountable for the actions they failed to take to stop it," Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters. "The international community will certainly hold him accountable, but he does have an opportunity, but this opportunity is slipping away."

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