Ivory Coast forces claim 5th town; crisis deepens

AP News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 9:53 AM
Ivory Coast forces claim 5th town; crisis deepens

Military officials loyal to Ivory Coast's internationally recognized president claimed Monday to have seized a fifth town in the country's far west, amid a deepening political crisis.

Monday's announcement came as thousands of youths gathered in the country's commercial capital to volunteer for the army to defend the incumbent leader who refuses to step down.

In the west, Lacine Mara, a spokesman for the forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, said Republican Forces fighters captured the town of Blolekin near Liberia's border on Monday after an all-night battle.

Col. Hilaire Gohourou, a spokesman for the national army still loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, refused to comment on the information. Over the weekend, he had reported that they had pushed back forces loyal to Ouattara.

The Republican Forces are made up of New Forces rebels loyal to Ouattara and defected soldiers from Gbagbo's side.

In Abidjan, an Associated Press cameraman estimated Monday morning that thousands gathered in front of the defense ministry in response to a call to enlist from Charles Ble Goude, the leader of the Young Patriots organization.

Security forces loyal to Gbagbo fired mortars on a crowded marketplace last week, killing at least 25 people _ an act resoundingly denounced by Western governments. The U.N. also condemned the attack and said crimes against humanity may have been committed.

An African Union mediation panel has given Gbagbo until Thursday to sit down with Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner, to negotiate a transfer of power.