Friday, April 1, 2011

Ouattara forces loyal to advance to San Pedro port

Forces loyal to the winner of a disputed presidential election in Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara, made the official capital and moved to 130 kilometers from the port of San Pedro, crucial for the export of cocoa. Ouattara loyalists in recent days launched offensives from the east, west and center of the country and now control major cocoa producing areas in an offensive south to corner Laurent Gbagbo.

Gbagbo has refused to relinquish power after losing elections last November, certified by the United Nations, resisting pressure from the African Union and the West. The UN says 472 people have died since the beginning of the fighting and warned that the humanitarian crisis worsens, with one million people displaced in the commercial capital Abidjan.

Ouattara loyalists now control areas are cultivated around 600 thousand tons of cocoa a year, half of the production of the world's largest producer. Prices dropped in recent months to a maximum of 30 years, fueled by speculation on supply due to conflict. But since the start of the offensive Ouattara have begun to recede.

The price of cocoa in London on Wednesday fell 2.7 percent on expectations that exports will soon be released. Residents and military sources in Yamoussoukro, the official capital of Ivory Coast but in practice it works just as residence of the president, said at the end of the afternoon pro Ouattara forces had taken the city.

"Yamoussoukro is controlled by the Republican Forces (pro Ouattara)," a military source said Gbagbo's side. "They're across the city." Several residents confirmed the information and pro-Gbagbo military source said it received orders to withdraw to Abidjan, 215 miles southeast. There were reports of clashes in the city, but it was unclear what happened to the Republican Guard, a unit loyal to Gbagbo that would repel the advancing forces of Ouattara.

Another group of fighters pro Ouattara, mainly former rebels who control the north of the country from civil war in 2002 and 2003, took control of Soubre, the last major way to the port town of San Pedro cocoa. "The republican forces took the town without any resistance," said Madou Kone, a resident.

Meanwhile, witnesses said supporters of Gbagbo youths opened fire in a neighborhood pro Ouattara's commercial capital Abidjan, killing seven civilians. "Young people came this morning. Some wore masks, others combat uniforms. They fired indiscriminately at people on the roadside," Jean told Reuters Badou, a shopkeeper who witnessed the attack.

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