State television antenna attacked in Ivory Coast

AP News
Posted: Feb 27, 2011 9:06 AM
State television antenna attacked in Ivory Coast

The state television antenna was attacked Sunday, pulling the channel accused of disseminating hate off the air in Ivory Coast's biggest city after a week of intense street battles that marked an escalation in the country's election standoff.

The Radio Television Ivorienne (RTI) channel was no longer available across Abidjan and witnesses said the antenna continued to burn at midday Sunday.

A ticker that ran during the midday news on RTI, which continued to broadcast via satellite to upscale neighborhoods, confirmed the attack and said programming had been "momentarily interrupted."

The United Nations has condemned RTI for inciting violence against U.N. peacekeepers who are providing 24-hour protection to Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the Nov. 28 presidential election.

He has been confined to a heavily guarded hotel because sitting president Laurent Gbagbo refuses to leave.

The three-month standoff has already claimed the lives of hundreds of Ouattara supporters, victims of targeted assassinations and "disappearances" carried out at night by security forces loyal to Gbagbo. The conflict reached a new level of intensity last week when commandos allied with Ouattara infiltrated the Abidjan district of Abobo.

They struck back, killing police and transforming the nature of the conflict from one pitting the police against unarmed demonstrators to one between two armed forces.

A resident of the Abobo neighborhood where the antenna was attacked and who asked not to be named for fear of retribution said the facility was still in flames on Sunday afternoon. Firefighters were attempting to put it out.

Supporters of Ouattara said the attack occurred at around 3 a.m. near PK-18, a stretch of Abobo that has been the scene of pitched battles all week between pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo forces.

Immediately following last year's election, Gbagbo's government pulled foreign channels off the air. RTI refused to announce Ouattara's victory, instead broadcasting the constitutional council's decision to annul results and hand the presidency back to Gbagbo, who has been in power for 10 years and repeatedly delayed holding the election.

The channel has become increasingly xenophobic, and in recent weeks it has singled the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, Choi Young-jin. His headshot is being shown on the nightly news, spliced between images of dead Ivorians. Citizens have been encouraged to erect barricades and stop all movement of United Nations vehicles.

Gbagbo and his supporters accuse the U.N. of bias because the mission oversaw the election and certified Ouattara's victory. The U.N.'s role in acting as the election's certifier is unique on the continent, part of an accord pushed for by the country's opposition who believed Gbagbo would attempt to steal the election.

Governments around the world have recognized Ouattara as the legitimate president and called on Gbagbo to leave.