Fighting breaks out in Ivory Coast Gbagbo stronghold

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 10:31 AM
Fighting breaks out in Ivory Coast Gbagbo stronghold

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Gunfire and explosions broke out in an Abidjan stronghold of Laurent Gbagbo, just outside the private house of his army chief, witnesses and a security source said, but state TV denied his residence had been attacked.

The security source said there were several hours of gun battles outside the home of army chief of staff Phillipe Mangou.

But state-run RTI television station denied local reports that his house had been attacked.

An electoral dispute between Gbagbo and Ouattara is degenerating into open conflict, with weeks of gun battles in Abidjan between insurgents claiming allegiance to Ouattara and renewed fighting across a north-south ceasefire line, in place since rebels seized half the country in a 2002-3 war.

"There is shooting in a lot of places and smoke rising to the air because Ouattara's youths are burning tyres," said Yopougon resident Lucien Sogena.

Forces loyal to Gbagbo said they launched an assault on Saturday to drive pro-Ouattara fighters out of northern Abidjan's Abobo district, although residents said those fighters still controlled most areas Sunday.

The election was meant to draw a line under years of crisis since a rebellion divided the country in two, but has merely entrenched the divisions between the mercantile, largely Muslim peoples of the north and the agricultural, more Christian south.

U.N.-certified results from a November election showed Ouattara won, but Gbagbo has refused to concede, defying almost universal condemnation from world leaders, Western sanctions and a threat of force by neighbors to oust him.

The pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council canceled half a million votes in the north to reverse Ouattara's win, disenfranchising the very northerners who said they took up arms because of discrimination against them by southern governments.

The latest African Union effort to mediate in the dispute failed this week, adding to fears of a return to civil war in the world's top cocoa grower, whose crisis has pushed cocoa futures to regular 32-year highs in recent weeks.

"They pulled all the kids out of school because of the shooting they heard," said Jules Atta, who lives in Yopougon's Sideci square. (Reporting by Ange Aboa and Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Giles Elgood)