Army chief for Ivory Coast strongman leaves refuge

April 5, 2011 - 0:0

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) – The army chief for Ivory Coast's strongman has rejoined the military days after deserting and seeking refuge at a foreign embassy, officials said Monday, as fighters backing the democratically elected leader sought to topple the entrenched president.

Gen. Phillippe Mangou, his wife and five children have left the South African ambassador's residence in Abidjan after fleeing there last week, said Clayson Monyela, a spokesman for South Africa's foreign affairs ministry.
Mangou's departure had been seen as a major blow to strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power to internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara more than four months after the election.
On Monday, the streets of Abidjan resembled a ghost town as the city's residents tensely awaited a final battle for power. Thousands of troops backing Ouattara are amassed at toll booth some 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the heart of Abidjan, where both the presidential palace and presidential mansion are located.
United Nations employees were ordered to take refuge inside the basement of their main building started at 7 a.m. Monday.
The top UN diplomat in Ivory Coast estimates that as many as 50,000 members of Gbagbo's security force deserted or defected in the hours after the pro-Ouattara forces descended on Abidjan late Wednesday. Despite the defections, Gbagbo has done his best to fight back, issuing a call to arms to his supporters who descended on his residence on Sunday to form a human shield around it.
One of the army chief's aides said Mangou is still supporting Gbagbo despite having fled to the South African ambassador's residence.
""The general is with us and has always been with us,"" Lt. Jean-Marc Tago said. ""Our plan is to defend the institutions of the republic against all its enemies — against the rebels, against the mercenaries, against the (United Nations) and all those who are attacking the institutions of the republic commanded by President Laurent Gbagbo.
Leaders around the world from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated calls for Gbagbo to step down over the weekend.
""There has been too much bloodshed,"" Ban said. ""I renew my call on Gbagbo to step down to avoid further violence and transfer power immediately to the legitimate general candidate president Ouattara.""