Laurent Gbagbo extends curfew in a bid to find weapons in the Ivory Coast

Gbagbo - Defiant

ABIDJAN, January 15, 2011 (AFP) – Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo Saturday extended a curfew slapped on Abidjan districts largely loyal to his rival for the presidency, saying weapons used against his troops were still hidden there. The 7:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew in Abobo and Anyama “is extended to the morning of Saturday, January 22,” a presenter on state television said, reading a decree extending the measure that had been due to expire on Saturday. The first curfew followed two days of unrest in which at least 11 people died, including eight members of Gbagbo’s Defence and Security Forces (FDS), after hundreds of the troops moved into the area searching for weapons. Abobo is a bastion of support for the man the world says beat incumbent Gbagbo in a November 28 presidential run-off, Alassane Ouattara, who remains holed up in an Abidjan hotel resort, besieged by Gbabgo troops. More than 200 people have died since the vote. Most of the world, the United Nations and the Independent Electoral Commission say that Quattara is the winner and he has been sworn in as president.

The constitutional council has declared Gbagbo the winner, and he has also been sworn in as president. Asked why the curfew had been extended, Gbagbo’s government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello told AFP: “Because there are a certain number of places that have been identified as concealing weapons of war. ” These places have not yet all been completely looked at so it is important for the curfew to continue so that we can find these weapons. These are weapons of war, Kalashnikovs etc have been found in these areas. “The work continues until we have collected all of these weapons,” he said, declining to say how many had so far been seized.  A security source said that police in the neighbourhood had come under attack from rocket-propelled grenades when they first moved into the area. Residents said that the district has been calm at night since the curfew was first decreed, and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country has been able to carry out some nighttime patrols there.

Gbagbo’s camp has accused Ouattara of inciting acts of violence in the area, something Ouattara’s side has denied. Gbagbo’s influential wife Simone on Saturday described her husband’s rival Ouattara as a “bandit chief” and the president of Ivory Coast’s former colonial power France, Nicolas Sarkozy, as the “devil.” “The time for debates over the election between Gbagbo and the ‘bandit chief’ is over. Our president (Laurent Gbagbo) has been vigorously placed in power and he is working,” she told around 4,000 supporters gathered in Abidjan. Referring to Sarkozy, she added that it was because “the ‘devil’ is persevering that our country is in turmoil. Still today, this devil persists.”

Gbagbo, meanwhile, on Saturday made a renewed call for the UN mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI) to leave over its alleged pro-Ouattara bias, according to a spokesman. Ivory Coast, however, remained open to a collaboration that served “peace” in the country, said spokesman Ahoua Don Mello. The African Union’s mediator in the crisis, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, was not expected back in Abidjan before Monday, an African diplomatic source in Ivory Coast’s main city said. Odinga had been due to fly to Abidjan sooner, but will now first brief the current head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, on Sunday evening. The 15-member regional bloc ECOWAS has said it is prepared to use force as a last resort of Gbagbo refuses to step down. Odinga’s first trip to Abidjan since being appointed as mediator by the continental body ended on January 5 with little tangible progress after Gbagbo failed to make good on promises that mediators said he made.

The United Nations mission in the country says that Gbagbo’s supporters have stepped up their attacks on peacekeepers there, with several UN vehicles torched on Thursday, although Gbagbo’s camp has denied involvement. The UN wants to send up to 2,000 extra peacekeepers to Ivory Coast, but a Security Council vote on the extra troops has been delayed until Tuesday. ECOWAS defence chiefs are to meet in the Malian capital Bamako from Wednesday for talks focused on how to deal with Ivory Coast’s crisis.

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