Forces loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara on Wednesday stormed the residence of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo who has refused to cede power, a spokeswoman for Ouattara forces told Reuters. “Yes they (Ouattara forces) are in the process of entering the residence to seize Gbagbo, they have not taken him yet, but they are in the process, they are in the building,” Affousy Bamba told Reuters.
Residents around the presidential palace in Abidjan’s Cocody neighborhood said they heard heavy gunfire and loud explosions coming from the direction of the palace. “I have seen from my building the FRCI fighters (Ouattara forces) in pickups and 4×4 jeeps rushing toward Gbagbo’s residence, weapons in their hands,” Alfred Kouassi, who lives near Gbagbo’s residence in Cocody, told Reuters.
“We can hear automatic gunfire and also the thuds of heavy weapons coming from the residence,” he said. Gbagbo representative Toussaint Alain, speaking to The Associated Press in a phone interview from Paris, said Gbagbo’s residence was being bombarded by the French army, but the French military denied the claim. “France will be held responsible for the death of President Gbagbo, his wife and family members and all those who are inside the residence, which is being bombarded by the French army,” he said, adding “there is a real danger” that Gbagbo and the others could be killed in the operation.
French military spokesman Thierry Burkhard denied that French forces were firing at Gbagbo’s residence, saying no French or U.N. operation was underway. France has helicopters patrolling Abidjan, helping guide ground forces and rescue people trapped in dangerous areas, he said. Gbagbo was hanging on to what little power he has left inside a bunker, encircled on all sides by soldiers loyal to his rival.
Diplomats said he had sent emissaries to negotiate, only to then refuse the proposals put before him. Although Gbagbo is cornered and his army is rapidly disbanding, getting him out of the bunker is not an easy matter. Forces backing Ouattara have received strict instructions to take him unharmed, said several members of the president’s cabinet.
After the evening newscast Tuesday, Ouattara’s private TV station showed the movie “Downfall,” which traces the last days of Adolf Hitler inside a bunker in Germany.
Presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara, photographed above with his wife, is married to Frenchwoman Dominique Folloroux-Ouattara.