|An Ivorian refugee gets a lift on a motorbike taxi to Zwedru.|
Looting broke out in various parts of Abidjan late Thursday as chaos spread with the arrival of forces backing internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara while the whereabouts of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo remained unknown.
A spokesperson for Ouattara told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Republican Forces had captured control of state-run television. Earlier, Ouattara’s camp announced a curfew extending from 2100 GMT Thursday until 0600 GMT until Sunday.
There was heavy weapons fire in the Cocody suburb, where Gbagbo’s residence is located, while about 50 French soldiers patrolled neighborhoods where French nationals live. Eyewitnesses told AFP looters were breaking into stores and carrying away goods, while other people remained indoors as gunfire and heavy weapons fire raged.
Earlier, Ouattara’s prime minister warned Gbagbo that he had until 1900 GMT to step down or Republican Forces backing Ouattara would seek him out.
“Laurent Gbagbo must turn himself over in order to avoid a bloodbath,” said Guillaume Soro, Ouattara’s premier, in a telephone interview with AFP.
Meanwhile, forces of the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (Unoci) occupied the city’s main airport. The head of some 100 Ivorian troops at the airport peacefully handed over control, AFP said, citing an unnamed UN official.
Earlier, pro-Gbagbo troops withdrew their blockade of the hotel housing Ouattara and his cabinet.
In a lightning advance across the country that has met little resistance from Cote d’Ivoire’s military, the Republican Forces captured several key towns, including the capital, Yamoussoukro, and the port of San Pedro before reaching Abidjan on Thursday. In addition to weapons fire in Cocody, small arms and heavy weapons fire could be heard in central Abidjan near the presidential palace and the national television offices.
The whereabouts of Gbagbo were unknown on Thursday night, although state television announced that he was to address the nation. Earlier on Thursday, the army chief of staff, his wife and five children sought refuge at the residence of the South African envoy to Cote d’Ivoire.
The BBC reported that the head of the military police had defected and gone to Ouattara’s headquarters at the Golf Hotel.