Heavy fighting in Ivory Coast as forces clash around presidential palace
The US is calling for renegade former President Laurent Gbagbo to step down, while relief organizations report a massacre of hundreds in one western town.
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Forces supporting Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara are closing on the presidential palace where former President Laurent Gbagbo has dug in, in what could be the climax of the violence gripping the West African nation.
An adviser to Mr. Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of last fall's presidential election, told the Associated Press that fighters loyal to Ouattara were gathering in preparation for a final assault on the palace in Abidjan Sunday. The area around the palace was quiet Sunday, though the AP reports that hundreds of young men had gathered there, apparently in response to Mr. Gbagbo's call for civilians to gather around the palace as human shields.
Abidjan saw heavy fighting on Saturday, reports BBC News, as the two sides exchanged heavy artillery fire in the city as they battled to control the palace, the state television station, and the city's military base.
Amid the fighting, four UN peacekeepers were seriously wounded when pro-Gbagbo soldiers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a UN personnel carrier. And French forces seized control of the city's airport, with another 300 French soldiers set to arrive in Ivory Coast soon, according to military officials. The French camp is currently protecting more than 1,500 foreigners.
Saturday also saw reports from the Red Cross and Caritas about a massacre of at least 800 people in the town of Duekoue in western Ivory Coast. Workers from the two relief organizations visited the town Wednesday and found the streets strewn with people killed by small-arms fire and machetes. Red Cross put the death toll at around 800, while Caritas officials estimated it to be more than 1,000. Neither group was sure who perpetrated the massacre.