Friday, April 01, 2011

Ivorian Rebels Say They Have Seized State TV and Presidential Palace

Ivory Coast Rebels Seize State TV, Control Gbagbo Palace

April 01, 2011, 10:29 AM EDT
By Baudelaire Mieu, Olivier Monnier and Pauline Bax

(Updates with comments on Gbagbo’s whereabouts in second paragraph, defection of police unit in 10th.)

April 1 (Bloomberg) -- Ivory Coast forces backing election winner Alassane Ouattara said they seized the state broadcaster and attacked incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo’s residence and presidential palace amid heavy fighting.

The Republican Forces now control Gbagbo’s residence in the Cocody neighborhood of Abidjan, the commercial capital, said Meite Sindou, a spokesman for Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro. Explosions and gunfire continued to rock the district and plumes of smoke rose into the sky, residents said. Gbagbo’s spokesman denied speculation he fled the country.

“He is on Ivoirian territory, he has no intention of resigning,” the spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, said in an interview broadcast today on Radio France Internationale.

The Republican Forces entered Abidjan late yesterday after an ultimatum for Gbagbo to accept his Nov. 28 election defeat and step down lapsed. The fighters had swept south from their base in the north of the country over the past two weeks, meeting little resistance from Gbagbo’s forces.

“Radio Television Ivorienne fell into our hands last night,” Sindou said in a phone interview today. Television broadcasts were halted at about midnight as heavy artillery fire and explosions shook buildings.


Cocoa prices have tumbled 9.4 percent in the past 10 days as traders predict an imminent end to the impasse in the world’s largest cocoa producer. The crisis led the West African nation to default on its $2.3 billion Eurobond, which has rallied 38 percent in 10 days as Ouattara’s forces advance.

The United Nations, the U.S., the African Union and the European Union all recognize Ouattara, 69, as the winner of the nation’s first vote in a decade, while Gbagbo, 65, refuses to step down, alleging voter fraud.

Gbagbo’s whereabouts are unknown, Bernard Valero, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of former colonial power France, told reporters in Paris today.

“The security forces around Mr. Gbagbo seem to have abandoned him, after he’d been abandoned by the army leadership,” Valero said. “This creates uncertainty and risk in the town, particularly for looting.”


An elite 1,000-member security unit founded by Gbagbo in 2005 announced today it would defect to Ouattara’s government. The unit, known as the Centre de Commandement des Operations de Securite, or Cecos, called on its members to “rally without further delay to the Republican Forces of Ivory Coast,” according to a statement on its website.

Even before the Republican Forces entered Abidjan, the head of Gbagbo’s army, General Phillipe Mangou, sought refuge at the residence of the South African ambassador, the Pretoria-based Foreign Ministry said.

In another blow to Gbagbo, General Edouard Tiape Kassarate, head of the military police, defected to Ouattara’s administration at its headquarters in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, Alain Lobognon, an adviser to Soro, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

“I’m not sure Gbagbo is in control any longer,” said Rinaldo Depagne, a Dakar-based analyst for International Crisis Group. “The first step for a peaceful outcome is Gbagbo coming and saying ‘I quit’.”

Human Rights

There was a “mass exodus” out of Abidjan as civilians tried to avoid the clashes, the UN Refugee Agency said on its website yesterday.

The UN said it had received “unconfirmed but worrying reports” of human rights violations committed by the Republican Forces in the western towns of Guiglo and Daloa and in Abidjan. The fighters may have arbitrarily arrested, abducted and extorted money from civilians, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an e-mailed statement.

Pro-Gbagbo troops have committed “daily” human rights violations, including the reported burning of two civilians alive, OCHA said.

Ouattara yesterday ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew and the closure of all borders, according to an e-mailed statement.

Cocoa for May delivery rose for the first day this week, rising $6, or 0.2 percent, to $2,958 per metric ton as of 2:44 p.m. in London trading. The price for the beans slumped to an 11-week low yesterday on hopes for a quick resumption in exports, which had been crippled by European Union sanctions.

Ivory Coast’s defaulted dollar-denominated bond jumped 6.2 percent to 49.583 cents on the dollar at 1:45 p.m. in Abidjan, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Death Toll

At least 494 people have died in the conflict so far, the UN said in an e-mailed statement. Retreating Liberian mercenaries committed arbitrary executions and looted towns, especially around the western town of Guiglo, it said.

About 500 foreign nationals had taken refuge at a French military camp on the outskirts of Abidjan, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Colonel Thierry Burkhard of the French army. A 34-year-old Swedish woman working for the UN mission in Ivory Coast was killed by gunfire in her home in Abidjan last night, Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, said in an e-mailed statement today.

Jan Pieter Ohler, a Dutch diplomat, said youths were looting stores and houses in the wealthy neighborhood of Zone 4.

“The economic damage will be considerable,” he said by phone. “The French army reinforced its deployment in the area and extracted several expats from their homes. There is a real sense of lawlessness.”

African Union Commission President Jean Ping called on Gbagbo to “immediately” step down and hand power to Ouattara, according to an e-mailed statement today.

Gbagbo still has “an opportunity to step aside and avoid bloodshed,” Johnnie Carson, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told reporters in Washington yesterday. If he doesn’t he will be held accountable for violence in the city, Carson said.

--With assistance from Franz Wild in Johannesburg, Jason McLure in Accra, Gregory Viscusi in Paris and Gopal Ratnam in Washington. Editors: Philip Sanders, Karl Maier

To contact the reporters on this story: Olivier Monnier in Abidjan at; Pauline Bax in Abidjan at; Franz Wild in Johannesburg at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at

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