Fierce fighting spreads in Ivory Coast showdown

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Fierce fighting spread across Abidjan yesterday as troops loyal to Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo fended off attacks by forces supporting Alassane Ouattara’s rival claim to the presidency.

The heaviest clashes centred around the state television station, which went off the air after it was attacked by pro-Ouattara forces over Thursday night, but which resumed broadcasting pro-Gbagbo footage late yesterday.

The boom of heavy weapons fire rang out constantly from near Gbagbo’s residence and presidential palace, both of which have come under attack, as well as two major military bases — turning Ivory Coast’s main city into a war zone.

“We can hear shooting and see soldiers moving but there are also armed civilians running in the streets,” said Camara Arnold, a resident of Cocody, the neighbourhood that is home to the state television building and Gbagbo’s residence.

Two white MI-24 attack helicopters belonging to the United Nations peacekeeping mission circled above central Abidjan’s palm-fringed lagoon, but did not intervene.

Gbagbo, who has refused to quit after a Nov. 28 election that UN-certified results showed he lost, has been hit by a number of high-level defections in the military.

The African Union, former colonial ruler France, the United States, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on him to step down immediately.

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