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Passions stirred, Gbagbo backers "ready to die" for I.Coast

by Staff Writers
Abidjan (AFP) March 21, 2011
With a tightly-clenched fist angrily puncturing the air, Guillaume, a young supporter of strongman Laurent Gbagbo declares himself ready to die to free Ivory Coast.

In a heaving crowd of thousands of youths, he has come to sign up to "fight the rebels", the supporters of Alassane Ouattara -- internationally recognised as the winner of a disputed election in November 2010.

"We want kalach (nikovs)!": A chorus ringing out from a group of youths standing in single file.

Heads shaven, some covered with caps, these young men streamed to the Gallieni military camp to enlist in Gbgabo's armed forces - answering a call from Charles Ble Goude, the fiery chief of his most militant backers, the "Young Patriots".

In a red T-shirt and jeans, Guillaume, 30, abandoned his hair salon to sign up and save an Ivory Coast "invaded by rebels".

Fighters backing Ouattara have been slowly advancing through suburbs of the economic capital, threatening Gbagbo's regime with ambushes and attacks.

Meeting fierce resistance from Gbagbo forces - bloodshed, and civilian deaths, have become a daily occurrence.

Guillaume proudly fills out a form marked with the words: "Census of volunteers for military recruitment".

"I am ready to go for training today to die for my homeland," he says.

Olivier, who is unemployed, is from Yopougon, a bastion of support for Gbagbo in the west of Abidjan.

He says he has come to "seek vengeance" against his brothers and sisters killed in western Ivory Coast, the region hardest hit by a political-military crisis spawned by a failed coup in 2002 by rebels now backing Ouattara.

Bar manager Francois wants to wear a uniform to "free his country of settlers and give (his) life for the freedom of black people", an echo of the anti-colonialist credo of Gbagbo.

On a platform overlooking an immense piece of land where the hopeful recruits stood tightly packed, General Philippe Mangou, chief of the Defense and Security Forces, addressed the throng of youths waiting in the suffocating heat.

"Can I count on you for the defence and sovereignty of the Ivory Coast?" he asked, dressed in fatigues.

The crowed roared "yes" in response.

Sure to leave many disappointed who already saw themselves fighting for the flag, Mangou urged them merely to sign up and leave their contact details, to be called "when the time is right".

Goude, accused of wanting to arm the youth as Abidjan is rocked by bloodshed that the UN estimates has killed at least 440 since the start of the post-election dispute, justifies his call to arms:

"It is because we want to avoid a civil war and an ethnic war that we ask the youth who are willing to enlist in the regular army, which is the only army authorised to face the mounting insecurity," he told AFP.

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