Heavy fighting killed at least 30 people in the Ivorian city of Abidjan on Thursday after the presidential guard clashed with supporters of rival Alassane Ouattara as they gathered to protest a political stalemate that has divided the country.
Heavy weapons were fired on Thursday in Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan as troops loyal to rival presidential contenders clashed in a deadly escalation of the political crisis that has gripped the West African nation since the disputed Nov. 28 presidential run-off.
According to Karim Hakiki, FRANCE 24 correspondent reporting from Abidjan, at least 30 people were killed in the fighting.
The latest violence came as supporters of Alassane Ouattara attempted to heed his call to storm the state television (RTI) headquarters.
Deadly skirmishes broke out as security forces loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo clashed with protesters loyal to Ouattara.
Heavy fighting broke out as they attempted to march from the waterfront Hotel de Golf, where the opposition leader has been based since Nov. 28, to the headquarters of the RTI television station.
“We’ve been here… with the intent of covering the protest that was scheduled to begin from the Hotel de Golf, the headquarters of Alassane Ouattara, but the protest was never allowed to happen,” said FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier, also reporting from Abidjan.
Ouattara’s supporters, according to Vanier, were preceded by forces loyal to Soro, the former leader of the New Forces rebel group and now Ouattara’s designated prime minister.
“All of them were carrying assault rifles. Some of them had grenade launchers,” said Vanier, referring to Soro’s forces. “And it seems that just a few minutes after Guillaume Soro’s security forces headed out into the road that leads from the hotel to the national TV station, heavy fighting broke out. Rockets were fired, heavy artillery was heard. This three kilometere stretch of road between the hotel and the TV station is where the battle is taking place.”
Ouattara, Soro and their supporters have been holed up in the Hotel Golf, protected by their supporters and UN troops.
Meanwhile Gbagbo has maintained control of the military, the state media and government buildings.
ICC warns it will pursue perpetrators of violence
The West African nation has been in crisis since the November 28 run-off, with both candidates claiming victory and picking their own cabinets. The political stalemate has ground economic activity in the world’s largest cocoa-growing nation to a halt.
In an interview with FRANCE 24 on Thursday, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said that if violence broke out in Ivory Coast, he would prosecute those responsible.
"If they start to kill people then it's a crime and we will pursue them," said Moreno-Ocampo. "No one can commit crime in Ivory Coast because of elections.
"The reality is that some people in Ivory Coast are planning attacks and we know that. And I want to tell them clearly, if you do that... you will be prosecuted. That's a clear message," he added.
‘An important symbol’
Although Ouattara enjoys the support of the international community, most of the state institutions continue to be controlled by Gbagbo.
Reporting from Abidjan, Vanier said Ouattara’s call to storm the state TV station was an attempt to gain control of a critical national institution.
“There are basically three levers of power here in Ivory Coast: the economy, the army and the TV,” explained Vanier. “The Ouattara camp has not managed to get a firm grasp of the economy and the army is still loyal to Gbagbo. So Ouattara and his government are trying to take control of the TV because at present they have no means of broadcasting their message. The TV station is definitely one of the country’s seats of power and it’s an important symbol.”