Fighting rages in Ivory Coast, 800 dead in west

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Soldiers of Ivory Coast’s rival leaders battled for the presidential palace, military bases and state TV in the main city Abidjan yesterday, in a conflict becoming so brutal that it killed 800 people in one town alone.

Advancing soldiers backing Alassane Ouattara, who UN-certified results show won a Nov. 28 presidential election, met stiff resistance from fighters remaining loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down.

State television came back on air after fighting took it down for a day, showing Gbagbo drinking tea, saying the pictures were from his city residence yesterday. It was not possible to verify if the images were recent recordings.

A Reuters reporter heard sporadic gunfire and explosions from heavy shelling near the presidential palace throughout the morning, and clashes also raged around the office of state broadcaster RTI, back in Gbagbo’s hands after the rebels had initially seized it, and some military bases in the city.

After a brief lull, heavy fighting also resumed outside Gbagbo’s residence, though military sources on both sides said his forces remained in control and showed no signs of giving up.

“We are going to fight to the death to defend our territory. We die or we win,” Noel Dago, a pro-Gbabgo militia fighter outside his house told Reuters by phone.

“There are a lot of deaths in both camps, but the most determined is the one who will win.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said at least 800 people were killed in intercommunal violence in the western Ivorian town of Duekoue this week.

Catholic charity Caritas said scores were also missing.

“There were very heavy killings in the wake of the advance of Ouattara’s forces last week, and many people may have fled,” Caritas official Jean Djoman said by telephone from Abidjan. “We think the total of dead and missing there is about 1,000.”

That would bring the confirmed death toll from violence since the disputed election, in which Ouattara was the internationally recognised winner, to about 1,300.

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