Water and electricity have been cut in Ivory Coast's north, the electric company and the rebels who control the area said Wednesday, a move that deprives millions of people and further deepens an increasingly violent political crisis.
Armed men entered the electricity company and ordered that the electricity for the entire northern half of the country be cut on late Monday, "even though no operational need existed and the network was healthy," said a statement signed by the management of the national electric company.
The company has been operating under the supervision of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, who nationalized the key state asset in January, more than a month after he lost a presidential election according the results certified by the United Nations. He refuses to cede power to the man the U.N. recognized as the poll's winner, Alassane Ouattara.
"Millions of people across the north are without water or electricity," said Issia Doumbia, a spokesman for the New Forces rebels, which control the north and are loyal to Ouattara.
"During the entire war, Gbagbo never cut the people off," he said, referring to a war 8 years ago that divided the country into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south. "But now, things are turning bad _ fast."
The rebels have operated a de-facto government since 2002. Services have continued to operate, but the rebels have been widely accused of corruption.
Also on Wednesday, two major foreign radio stations stopped broadcasting in what appeared to be a renewed clampdown on foreign media.
The country's regulatory agency for television and radio, which cut off all foreign television and radio broadcasters for more than a month last year, said Wednesday it had not cut off Radio France International and the BBC.
"We aren't aware of any measure against these stations," said Felix Nanihio, the agency's secretary general.
Over the weekend, Ouattara's partisans attacked the state television antenna, and successfully prevented it from broadcasting for more than a day. State television is controlled by Gbagbo.
The BBC and RFI use different FM relay antennas located in different parts of the city, making a simultaneous attack on them unlikely.
But Gbagbo's government has started cracking down on press loyal to Ouattara. Nine pro-Ouattara newspapers suspended publication Tuesday after one of them was banned and three others were fined for their coverage of police brutality last week.
Fighting in Ivory Coast's commercial capital reached a new level of intensity last week, when gunmen loyal to Ouattara began fighting back and ambushing police officers after weeks of violent repression.
Last week, the U.N. said more than 300 people had died since the country's disputed November election, but that total does not include casualties from the most intense fighting which could easily reach 100.
The U.N. refugee body estimates that 20,000 people fled the fighting in a single day last week.
The northern Abidjan district of Abobo, which has been the ground zero of fighting, is now largely controlled by gunmen loyal to Ouattara.