Pro-Gbagbo youth answer call to join Ivorian army

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 12:17 PM

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Thousands of youth supporters of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo answered a call to join the army on Monday, adding fuel to a violent power struggle that risks sending the country back to civil war.

Around 400 Ivorians have died and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in a dispute over a November 28 presidential vote which U.N.-certified results showed was won by Gbagbo's rival Alassane Ouattara, who is backed by rebel forces.

Gbagbo, who says the result was fixed, remains in control of the army and on Saturday the leader of his "Young Patriots" youth wing urged them to sign up for military service.

Chanting slogans like "We will kill them now" and "The rebels will die", prospective recruits gathered at a stadium at army headquarters in Abidjan to sign up.

The large turnout underlines the growing influence of Youth Patriot leader Charles Ble Goude, who on Saturday called on around 10,000 supporters at a rally to "liberate" the country.

Ble Goude, who is also Gbagbo's minister for youth despite being under U.N. sanctions, is accused by rights groups of inciting attacks on Ouattara supporters, U.N. peacekeepers and West Africans living in Ivory Coast. He denies the charges.

On Sunday thousands joined an exodus from Abidjan, the main city in the world's top cocoa grower, crowding onto buses with their belongings and heading for the countryside.

The U.N. says some 435 people have been killed and another 450,000 forced from their homes since the crisis began.

The heaviest fighting between rival camps has taken place in Abidjan but clashes have also flared in the west as northern forces have pushed south across the ceasefire line that split the country after a 2002-03 civil war.

The African Union earlier this month affirmed that Ouattara was the rightful president and proposed that he lead a unity government including pro-Gbagbo elements, a proposal immediately rejected by Gbagbo's camp.

(Reporting by Tim Cocks and Ange Aboa; editing by Andrew Roche)