Rebels Capture Ivory Coast Capital
Rebel forces loyal to opposition leader and rightful Ivorian President Alassane Ouatarra have seized the capital city of Yamoussoukro, Britain’s Guardian reports. Residents of the city say the rebels took it with little resistance. The port city of San Pedro is also now reportedly under rebel control. Pro-Ouatarra Republican Forces (FRCI) are now pushing southwards toward Abidjan, the commercial capital where President Laurent Gbagbo is desperately clinging to power.
Gbagbo lost an election to Ouatarra last year but refused to cede power to his rival. The current violence actually dates back to a 2002-2003 civil war, but the recent electoral dispute has seen a renewed surge in deadly clashes.
The capture of Yamoussoukro opens the way for the rebels to advance on Abidjan, 143 miles (230 km) to the southeast. Gbagbo is entrenched in the city, which he calls “impregnable” to attack. But many of his troops are jumping ship ahead of what they perceive will be their eventual rout. Rebel forces now control as much as three quarters of the country and are advancing toward Abidjan on multiple fronts.
In Abidjan, Gbagbo’s forces continue to harass and murder immigrants and anyone suspected of being from the northern, pro-Ouatarra part of the country. Malick Traore, a doctor whose parents are from neighboring Mali, told the Guardian that he was stopped by six gunmen and forced to show his ID. “They said: ‘Oh, you are against us; you are against the republic. We’ll give you a choice: either we kill you on the spot or we send you to the frontline.’ Luckily, I had money on me, and I gave them everything I had. So they let me go.” Others weren’t so lucky. “A little while later, I heard poom-poom-poom– you know, the sound of an automatic gun. They killed five people on the spot, including a coffee seller who was very well liked in our neighborhood,” he said.
Gbagbo’s goon squads, called Young Patriots, have also targeted United Nations staff; beating them, burning their vehicles, and even sometimes kidnapping them. A Nigerian UN peacekeeper remains missing two weeks after being abducted.
More than a million people have fled the violence that has killed hundreds of Ivorians since last year’s election, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says.
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