|West African leaders called on the UN Security Council
ABIDJAN (AFP) – Thousands of people were expected to stage a 24-hour rally in support of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo on Saturday as a bloody post-election crisis pushes the country to the brink of civil war.
Sound system blaring, several hundred youths had gathered by late morning outside the presidential palace in Plateau, blocked off by numerous barricades manned by pro-Gbagbo “Young Patriots”.
Charles Ble Goude, Gbagbo’s fiery youth minister and leader of the militant “Young Patriots”, called on all Ivorians to attend the overnight rally to “show that Laurent Gbagbo has majority support.”
He said the meeting, to run from Saturday afternoon to Sunday morning, would be a “popular uprising” to include camping and celebrations to glorify God.
The meeting comes amid mounting international concern that Gbagbo’s refusal to cede power to internationally recognised election victor Alassane Ouattara is leading the country to full-blown civil war.
US President Barack Obama said late Friday that if Gbagbo and his supporters continued to cling to power, it would “lead to more violence, more innocent civilians being wounded and killed and more diplomatic and economic isolation.”
The November 28 election “was free and fair,” Obama said in a video message to the leaders and people of Ivory Coast. “And President Alassane Ouattara is the democratically elected leader of the nation.”
The message came after the UN Security Council met Friday to discuss a draft resolution introduced by France and Nigeria to impose a heavy weapons ban in Abidjan.
The draft resolution demands an end to attacks against the UN mission and civilian populations by the Gbagbo camp and calls for the UN peacekeeping mission UNOCI to protect civilians, according to one diplomat.
The pro-Gbagbo rally is taking place in downtown Plateau, the administrative district of the economic capital Abidjan, once seen as the most cosmopolitan city in west Africa.
“The international community certainly has its president,” Ble Goude said Friday on state television. “But the national community has its president Laurent Gbagbo.”
The Ouattara stronghold of Abobo in northern Abidjan remains the epicentre of the fighting, and two armoured vehicles belonging to Gbagbo’s defence forces could be seen on Saturday burnt out next to a crossroads after fighting the previous day.
Witnesses said the vehicles ran into an “ambush” by pro-Ouattara fighters.
Meanwhile, as many as one million people have fled their homes as civilian areas are bombarded daily with rockets, mortars and shells, the UN refugee agency said.
“Law and order is collapsing, humanitarian access is more and more difficult, hospitals are closing — we are very, very close to a civil war in Abidjan,” former colonial power France’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gerard Araud, said in New York on Friday.
Clashes between forces loyal to the two rivals are estimated by the United Nations to have killed 52 people in the last week, with a total death toll of at least 462 people.
As mediation efforts have failed to resolve the crisis, violence has raged in Abidjan and the west of the country.
Ble Goude, called the “General of the Streets” for his ability to muster massive crowds, has called on young people “willing to die for their country” to enlist in Gbagbo’s armed forces.
On Monday thousands of youths presented themselves at the army headquarters to sign up.
The November 28 presidential run-off vote was supposed to end a decade of political turmoil which divided the world’s top cocoa producer into a rebel-held north and Gbagbo-controlled south after a failed coup in 2002.
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license