Abidjan bracing for final battle of Ivory Coast leaders
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Residents barricaded themselves inside their homes yesterday, blanketing windows and pushing furniture against doors as this country on Africa’s western coast tensely awaited the final battle between the two men who claim the presidency.
Fighters backing Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized president, amassed at a tollbooth on the city’s northern edge, preparing for the final assault. Their leader was declared the winner of last November’s election, but Ouattara has not been able to assume office because the outgoing president, Laurent Gbagbo, is refusing to yield power.
Water has been cut off to much of Abidjan, and on the empty streets, a handful of women with basins could be seen hurriedly crossing the waterfront highway to reach the lagoon. Men ventured out with plastic bags to scoop up water, holding the bags high in the air to signal to soldiers in firing positions that they were not armed.
Only about 20 miles separates the thousands of pro-Ouattara foot soldiers readying for battle from the lagoonside district where the presidential palace and mansion are located.
A resident of the Cocody neighborhood where the mansion is located said around 700 Gbagbo supporters had gathered at the gates of the compound yesterday to form a human shield to protect the presidential palace. Toussaint Alain, Gbagbo’s representative in Europe, told reporters in Paris that Gbagbo is not giving up.
“President Gbagbo, I have said, is at the residence of the head of state, his usual workplace, and he is managing the crisis with teams that have been put into place to deal with this aggression coming from the outside,’’ Alain said. “It’s not up to America or France to decide who must lead the Ivory Coast.’’
The international community has been nearly unanimous in backing Ouattara, whose win with over 54 percent of the vote was confirmed by Ivorian election officials and a 900-strong UN observation mission.