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Gbagbo camp recruits youth, thousands flee Abidjan violence

by Staff Writers
Abidjan (AFP) March 19, 2011
Strongman Laurent Gbagbo's fiery youth leader on Saturday urged those willing to die for the Ivory Coast to enlist in his armed forces, as thousands fled post-election violence in Abidjan.

Charles Ble Goude, leader of the "Young Patriots", Gbagbo's most fervent and militant backers, rallied thousands of youths to fight as the outgoing president is condemned at home and abroad for the killings of civilians.

His speech came as thousands of citizens of Abidjan poured into bus stations to flee escalating violence after a three-month stand-off for the presidency of the world's top cocoa producer.

"I ask all the youth of Ivory Coast who feel able, who are ready to die for their homeland, who can no longer accept the humiliation suffered by the Ivory Coast, to present themselves on Monday at 0700 (GMT) to the army chief of staff to enlist in the army in order to free Ivory Coast from these bandits," said Ble Goude.

In recent weeks Gbagbo's Defence and Security Forces (FDS) have clashed violently with fighters backing Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised president of the Ivory Coast.

The epicentre of the violence in Abidjan has been the Ouattara stronghold of Abobo where Gbagbo's camp is accused by the United Nations of launching mortars which killed up to 30 people on Thursday. The outgoing president has denounced this as a "conspiracy".

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned "Laurent Gbagbo's continued attacks on unarmed civilians in Cote d'Ivoire and we demand an immediate end to this brutality."

The United Nations spoke of crimes against humanity while France denounced "the deliberate massacre of civilians" after the attack.

In the western Abidjan suburb of Yopougon, a bastion of support for Gbagbo, Ble Goude asked thousands of supporters: "Are you ready to enter the army to serve your country?"

The crowd erupted, with their hands in the sky, replying with yells of "Yes, free" Ivory Coast.

He blasted the United Nations, whose mission in the country, UNOCI, has been accused of supporting pro-Ouattara fighters by Gbagbo's camp, which refers to them as "rebels" or "terrorists".

"In fact it is not Ouattara leading us into war, it is the UN and (their representative in Abidjan Young-jin) Choi making this war," he said during a brief speech.

"This comedy has lasted too long," said Ble Goude, who spearheaded often violent demonstrations in the heat of the 2002 political-military crisis, targeting specifically the French.

In an official statement on Friday, Gbagbo urged "greater responsibility and collaboration" between citizens and the FDS so that "suspicious presences" are "neutralised".

Ble Goude -- dubbed "The General of the Streets" for his ability to draw and stir up massive crowds -- came under UN sanctions in 2006, accused of being an obstacle to the country's peace process.

The sanctions committee accused him of inciting violence against United Nations installations and personnel, and against foreigners as well as directing and participating "in acts of violence by street militias, including beatings, rapes and extrajudicial killings."

As mounting violence threatens to plunge the regional breadbasket into civil war, the UN estimates nearly 500,000 people are displaced, at least 200,000 from Abidjan. Some 90,000 have fled to neighbouring Liberia in a humanitarian crisis which threatens to rock the sub-region.

On Saturday families laden with bags crowded into Yopougon bus station in the west and Adjame bus station in the north of Abidjan, saying they were fleeing to their native villages.

"I am afraid," said Marguerite, a mother surrounded by her four children. "I am leaving Abidjan to take refuge in the village."

Another resident identifying himself as Tanoh said: "I have seen dead bodies in my suburb, I can't handle it."

The economic capital Abidjan has been stuck in violent limbo as mediation efforts appeared to have stalled at an African Union meeting last week.

However on Friday Gbagbo spokesman Ahoua Don Mello read a statement on state television saying the strongman was awaiting "the appointment of the high representative by the institution to consider inter-Ivorian dialogue".

Once seen as the economic miracle of west Africa and a beacon of stability in a troubled region, Ivory Coast was plunged into turmoil after an attempted coup in 2002 against Gbagbo.

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