ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Fighters supporting Ivory Coast’s internationally recognized leader seized control of the nation’s administrative capital on Wednesday, marking a symbolic victory after months of political chaos sparked when the country’s former president refused to step down after an election.
The fall of Yamoussoukro caps a dramatic advance on the city from multiple directions this week by soldiers supporting Alassane Ouattara, but many believe a final bloody battle over the presidency is now destined for the commercial capital of Abidjan, only 143 miles away.
Also on Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to demand an immediate end to the escalating violence and impose sanctions on Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to relinquish the presidency, and his inner circle.
With the sounds of gunshots cracking over the telephone line, a woman at the downtown Hotel La Residence in Yamassoukro said the rebel group loyal to Ouattara was doing a victory tour, shooting into the air. Residents came out into the streets to welcome them.
The woman, who would not give her name for fear of reprisals, said soldiers and police had fled hours before the fighters arrived.
“Blitzkrieg seems to be the strategy, rather than fighting to clear every inch and hamlet,” said Christian Bock, senior security analyst at Avascent International. “It will take an enormous amount of restraint to hold these forces back from moving on to Abidjan.”
Capt. Leon Alla, a defense spokesman for Ouattara, said the forces hoped for a similar lack of resistance upon reaching the country’s largest city, which is divided into neighborhoods backing Ouattara and others supporting former leader Gbagbo.
“Abidjan will be the same thing,” he told the AP. “We’ll enter without firing a shot because no FDS (pro-Gbagbo) soldier wants to die for Gbagbo.”