Laurent Gbagbo must leave now to avoid a bloodbath in Ivory Coast’s main city Abidjan after facing “mass defections” in the army, said France.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Gbgabo, defeated by Alassasne Ouattara in a presidential election last year according to U.N.-certified results, must “see sense” and comply with the wishes of the Ivorian people and the international community.
“We have to hope that there is no battle for Abidjan and no bloodbath … so Gbgabo has to listen and leave,” Valero said.
France, the former colonial power in the cocoa producing country, has 1,000 troops in Ivory Coast to protect its nationals and support a UN peacekeeping force, Reuters reports.
South Africa said on Thursday that Ivory Coast’s army chief, previously loyal to Gbagbo, had sought refuge at its ambassador’s residence in Abidjan, and Valero said there had been more defections during the day.
“The military forces have begun to defect massively, starting with the head of the armed forces … We think there is only a micro-praetorian guard around him (Gbagbo),” Valero said on France 24 television. Many police and para-military gendarmes had withdrawn from Abidjan’s streets, he said.
Ouattara has been living under UN protection in a hotel in Abidjan since the election, apart from a short visit to Nigeria and Ethiopia for talks with Nigerian and African Union leaders.
Valero declined to comment on whether French troops had been deployed in the city to protect its citizens, but he said that the 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in the cocoa producing country should fill the security vacuum in the coming hours.
“We want (UN) troops present and visible in the streets of Abidjan,” Valero said.
Three sources said French forces had been deployed in some parts of Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s main city, on Thursday.
One said soldiers from the French Licorne force had been deployed in Zone 4, in the south of city, while another said they had been sent to rescue French nationals.
The Defence Ministry would not confirm the information.