Ivory Coast: Fierce Fighting Between Gbagbo, Ouattara Forces

Troops loyal to Ivory Coast incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo are refusing to give up, using state-run television to call for reinforcements to help keep Mr. Gbagbo in power.

Residents reported bursts of gunfire and explosions Saturday in and around Abidjan, as the battle between Mr. Gbagbo’s forces and those fighting for internationally-recognized president Alassane Ouattara entered its third day.

Witnesses say this appears to be the first time Mr. Ouattara’s forces have met with stiff resistance since embarking on a fast moving campaign through the countryside which saw them take town after town.

Still, there are growing concerns about brutality.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday that 800 people were massacred on Tuesday in the western town of Duekoue, after Mr. Ouattara’s forces moved through.

Red Cross officials blamed the deaths on what it called “intercommunal violence.” A Red Cross worker reported going through at least one neighborhood where bodies had been piled up.

The Roman Catholic charity Caritas tells the Associated Press its workers are putting the death toll at 1,000 people.

The increasingly bloody conflict has prompted new calls for restraint from Human Rights Watch.

The human rights organization’s West Africa office is calling for both Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara to restrain their troops and ensure their are no reprisals.

A Human Rights Watch spokesman says many of those engaged in the fighting are part of a loose coalition of police, soldiers and neighborhood groups.

Mr. Ouattara has been declared the winner of a November presidential election, but Mr. Gbagbo has refused to step down and has been able to stay in control largely with the military’s help.

Mr. Gbagbo’s whereabouts in Ivory Coast are not known.

A spokesperson for the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast told VOA that the mission has offered to transport Mr. Gbagbo out of the country to help resolve the crisis.

The United Nations, the African Union, the United States and former colonial power, France, repeated demands Friday that Mr. Gbagbo step down.

The United Nations says more than 490 people have been killed since the political crisis began in early December. It says up to 1 million have fled, including thousands who have crossed into neighboring Liberia and Ghana. voa

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