Ivory Coast in tense standoff, rivals hold positions

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Fighters loyal to Ivory Coast presidential rivals Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara held their respective positions across Abidjan yesterday, a day that saw less fighting than the previous three.

Following three days of pitched battles, Reuters correspondents and witnesses said the main city in the world’s top cocoa-growing nation was quieter but tense, with sporadic gunfire and explosions heard in some neighbourhoods.

Forces loyal to Ouattara, who UN-certified results show won a Nov. 28 presidential election, are battling to forcefully remove Gbagbo, who refuses to step down. The months of post-election turmoil has killed more than 1,000 and rekindled the country’s 2002-3 civil war.

“There has been no fighting here. We are awaiting the resumption of hostilities at any time and we are prepared to defend ourselves and maintain control of Abidjan by all means,” a pro-Gbagbo officer at the presidential palace told Reuters.

“Taking Abidjan will be tough, no one should think that we will easily abandon our positions. We are determined,” he said.

A Western diplomat said an attack had been planned on Saturday on the presidential residence, but it did not happen, possibly because of the human shield of Gbagbo’s youth group.

The diplomat said explosions came from near the state TV channel RTI, which Gbagbo forces said they took back on Friday.

The television has been broadcasting virulent anti-UN, anti-US and anti-French messages and calls to Gbagbo supporters to join the fight, but the French-based Reporters without Borders said RTI could be broadcasting from a villa or mobile truck in Abidjan because its broadcasting centre is severely damaged.

Interior Minister Emile Guirielou and the leader of Gbagbo’s violent youth wing Charles Ble Goude called on the youth to take to the streets to help fight the rebels, and the “mercenaries” from the United Nations and France helping them.

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