Ivory Coast opposition says 200 dead, calls for protests

Ivory Coast opposition says 200 dead, calls for protests

The camp of Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara on Tuesday accused defiant president Laurent Gbagbo of operating death squads and overseeing the murder of 200 people, and called for mass protests to depose him, reported DPA

Ouattara is widely recognised as the rightful winner of last month's presidential elections, which were aimed at ending almost a decade of crisis in the world's largest cocoa grower but have instead threatened a return to the 2002 civil war.

Gbagbo is defying fierce international pressure and relying on military might to cling to power.

He has ordered the UN peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast (ONUCI) and French troops out of the country, accusing them of supporting Ouattara. The UN Security Council on Monday rejected the demand, extending the mission's mandate by six months.

Guillaume Soro, Ouattara's prime minister and leader of the former northern rebel group New Forces, said Gbagbo was employing Liberian and Angolan mercenaries to run death squads under the noses of the UN.

"Up until today, we've counted almost 200 dead and 1,000 injured by bullets, around 40 disappeared and nearly 732 arrests," Soro said in a statement published on Ouattara's website. "More seriously, woman have been beaten, stripped, assaulted and raped ... the ingredients for a genocide are in place."

"When will the international community convince itself that a murderous madness is taking place in Ivory Coast?" he asked.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Sunday said more than 50 people had been killed since Thursday, but Soro's claims - including the discovery of a mass grave containing sixty bodies in an Abidjan suburb - are difficult to verify.

"The deteriorating security conditions in the country and the interference with freedom of movement of UN personnel have made it difficult to investigate the large number of human rights violations reported," Pillay said.

International rights group Amnesty International said it had received numerous reports of people being arrested or abducted.

"It is clear that more and more people are being illegally detained by security forces or armed militiamen and we fear that many of them may have been killed or have disappeared," said Salvatore Sagues, Amnesty International's West Africa researcher.

Gbagbo allies have dismissed the charges of extrajudicial executions, saying it is propaganda aimed at allowing foreign military intervention.

Soro, who along with Ouattara is barricaded into the UN-protected Golf Hotel in Abidjan, called on Ivorians to defy a strong military presence and force Gbagbo from power.

"We ask the brave and proud Ivorian people ... to organise themselves, mobilise and demonstrate by all available means until Mr Laurent Gbagbo leaves power," he said.

Mass protests would undoubtedly provoke more bloodshed, but Ouattara's camp has grown increasingly frustrated at the inability of the international community to budge Gbagbo.

The European Union is to ban Gbagbo and key officials from travelling to the bloc and plans to freeze any assets held there, the United States is also planning sanctions and everyone from former colonial ruler France to regional West African bloc ECOWAS has called on the leader to step down.

Gbagbo's regime has brushed off the sanction threat and also warned UN peacekeepers that if they side with the rebels they will be dealt with appropriately."

An unfazed Gbagbo is portraying the international pressure as colonial-style interference in Ivory Coast's sovereignty as he tightens his grip on the country he has ruled since 2000.

November's much-delayed elections were aimed at healing divisions after the 2002 civil war split the country into the mainly Muslim north, which backs Ouattara, and Christian south, where Gbagbo holds sway.

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