AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
ABIDJAN: Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has ordered that UN peacekeepers and French troops leave the country, a spokeswoman for his government said today, in a statement read on state television.
“The president of the Republic of the Ivory Coast has just asked for the immediate departure from Ivorian territory of UNOCI and the French forces that support it,” Education Minister Jacqueline Lohoues-Oble said.
Earlier, Gbagbo’s most feared lieutenant, Charles Ble Goude, urged his followers to make ready for battle against the rival government of Alassane Ouattara.
“Play time is over,” declared Gbagbo’s minister for youth, who has been under United Nations sanctions since 2006 for “acts of violence by street militias, including beatings, rapes and extrajudicial killings”.
“We are going to defend the sovereignty of our country until the last drop of our sweat. I urge all Ivorians to make themselves ready for this combat. We are going to totally liberate our country,” he told AFP.
Ble Goude, who is best known as leader of the Young Patriot movement that led attacks on French interests and opposition supporters during a previous crisis in Ivory Coast in 2004, summoned his followers to a rally. His involvement in the violence led to him being named on a United Nations list of extremists subject to international travel bans and asset freezes.
But he has remained a loyal supporter of Gbagbo, and has been the most outspoken member of his cabinet as the veteran leader battles to hang on to power in the face of international pressure to step down.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara claim to have won last month’s presidential election, and both have had themselves declared president.
Ouattara has been recognised by the international community, but the incumbent refuses to cede power.
While Gbagbo retains control of ministries and the armed forces, Ouattara is holed up in a luxury hotel protected by an 800-strong force of UN peacekeepers, and is endorsed by the former colonial power France.
On Friday, France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy reiterated his call for Gbagbo to stand down, stirring the anger of Gbagbo supporters like Ble Goude.
“He’ll have to march over our corpses to get to Gbagbo,” warned Ble Goude, who is still nicknamed the “General of the Street” in Abidjan, calling on his followers to gather in the Yopougon district of the city.
Gunmen fire at UN base
ABIDJAN: A group of gunmen in military uniform opened fire on the United Nations base in Abidjan overnight, the UN said today, as tension mounted between Laurent Gbagbo’s government and the mission. There was no report of anyone hurt in the attack, which came after Gbagbo’s armed forces accused UN peacekeepers of arming rebel fighters loyal to rival presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara. A statement from the Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) said, “One of its patrols was followed by six armed men in a civilian vehicle. Outside the UNOCI headquarters in Sebroko, the occupants of the vehicle fired shots in the direction of the UNOCI patrol as it entered the mission compound.”