Rebel violence, looting continue to spread in Ivory Coast
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Rebels opposed to the strongman Laurent Gbagbo seized a town near the Liberian border yesterday, a rebel spokesman said, in a further sign of Ivory Coast’s possible slide toward civil war.
A top commander of Gbagbo-allied forces in the west, near the border, declined to comment, but the head of a leading civil society organization in the region confirmed that the town of Toulepleu had fallen to the rebels, extending an advance in which they have taken several small towns on the Liberian frontier in the past 10 days.
A weeklong campaign of looting and burning in Abidjan aimed at the homes of ministers allied with Gbagbo’s rival, Alassane Ouattara, continued yesterday, underscoring the growing lawlessness in this sprawling economic capital.
Ouattara won a presidential election in November, according to most of the international community, but Gbagbo refused to step aside. The standoff prevailing here since then has taken an increasingly violent turn.
Ouattara, who has been trapped in an Abidjan hotel surrounded by UN peacekeepers, has appointed a parallel government, but it has little real power.
Gbagbo’s efforts to remain in power have turned sharp-edged, even as broad economic sanctions imposed by the West have stifled his revenues.
Human rights groups and others have documented a steady campaign of abductions and killings aimed at his opponents since early December.
Last week, his forces fired into a crowd of unarmed female demonstrators, killing at least seven.
In the past few days, militant youth groups loyal to Gbagbo and supported by his security forces have broken into about 10 homes of Ouattara ministers, plundering clothing and valuables, officials in Ouattara’s government said.
The Shi’ite majority has long complained of discrimination and political persecution in the island nation, which is ruled by a Sunni dynasty.
The protesters demanded the prime minister step down because of corruption and a deadly crackdown on the opposition in which seven people were killed.
Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the prime minister and the king’s uncle, has been in power for 40 years.
Khalifa, who was presiding over a weekly meeting of government ministers, told the state-run Bahrain News Agency that changes are under way and the kingdom’s “reform march will continue.’’
The Shi’ite opposition groups have called for a constitutional monarchy, but some of the protesters camped out in the capital’s Pearl Square are demanding that the Sunni monarchy step aside altogether. (AP)
The changes include new faces in the key foreign, interior, and justice ministries — a decision expected to be met with the approval of the proreform groups that led an 18-day uprising that force Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11.
Hundreds of protesters staged a rally outside the Interior Ministry in Cairo, which houses offices the hated State Security agency, before it was violently broken up. (AP)
Also yesterday, the US government, citing terrorism and civil unrest, advised Americans not to travel to Yemen and said Americans in the Arab nation should leave.
A travel warning issued by the State Department authorized family members of US Embassy staff and nonessential personnel to leave. (AP)