JOHANNESBURG – Forces loyal to the Ivory Coast president recognized by the United Nations, Alassane Ouattara, called off a brief cease-fire and renewed attacks on the presidential residence of his rival Wednesday, but they were met with fierce resistance.
During heavy fighting, pro-Ouattara forces were driven back by hard-core loyalists of Laurent Gbagbo, who were dug in with heavy artillery around the presidential residence in the upscale Cocody neighborhood of the commercial capital, Abidjan.
Gbagbo’s desperate, last-ditch battle to hang on as president raised questions about whether the pro-Ouattara Republican Forces would be able to take him alive, as planned.
In the last four months, the country’s post-electoral impasse has gone from farcical to deadly.
It began with both presidents having themselves and their cabinets sworn into power and progressed to a bloody fight for power in Abidjan’s streets, culminating in the surrender of Gbagbo’s top military officers and most of his forces Tuesday.
Ouattara is recognized by the United Nations and African Union as president after elections monitored and certified by the U.N. in November, but Gbagbo insists he won.
Although heavy weapons fire had stopped in most parts of the city by Tuesday, clashes continued Wednesday in some areas, including around Gbagbo’s residence.
Gbagbo doesn’t have a strong hand: He is surrounded by his enemies, isolated by world leaders and deserted by almost all of his military.
French officials have claimed that he was on the brink of stepping down twice in recent days.
An announcement Tuesday by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe that Gbagbo was about to surrender was quickly contradicted by the besieged leader, who told French television he had no intention of doing so.
After he refused to surrender, pro-Ouattara forces announced a new assault to remove him by force.