Ouattara lawyers want Ivorian strongman neutralised

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Lawyers for Ivorian president-in-waiting Alassane Ouattara demanded Sunday that the UN and France "neutralise" forces loyal to his rival Laurent Gbagbo and bring the strongman to justice.

"We call upon the impartial forces from UNOCI, with the support of the French Licorne troops, to eliminate with no further delay the heavy weapons, neutralise the militiamen on Gbagbo's payroll ... and to bring to justice the defeated (presidential) candidate," the French lawyers said.

The statement, issued in Paris, described Gbagbo loyalists as "an illegal occupation force" as fighters backing the two rival claimants to the presidency battle it out in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan.

Meanwhile scores of people living near the luxury lagoon-front Golf Hotel where Ouattara has been sheltering for more than four months fled after it came under attack on Saturday, apparently by Gbagbo loyalists, residents said.

The UN mission in Ivory Coast (UNOCI), Ouattara's camp and witnesses said the attack was carried out by fighters for Gbagbo, who has refused to step down since elections in November which the UN-backed election commission said were won by Ouattara.

Gbagbo's side however denied there had been an attack, after hotel occupants reported close gunfire and UNOCI said its peacekeepers had responded to mortar fire.

"It was terrible," one resident said. "If you had heard that (the attack), you would not have stayed here. Since that ended, people started packing their bags. They are leaving with all their things."

The attack was the first on the hotel since the start of the political crisis, although it has been under siege from the pro-Gbagbo Defence and Security Forces (FDS).

"The FDS are attacking us and we are trying to push them back," a fighter with the pro-Ouattara forces said Saturday.

But Gbagbo spokesman Ahoua Don Mello told AFP: "It's absolutely false. There has been no attack on the Golf (hotel). It's an imaginary attack."

Though outgunned, Gbagbo loyalists are putting up stiff resistance and have even regained some lost positions.

Ouattara's forces had on Wednesday tried to storm Gbagbo's residence in a bid to bring a final end to the dragging dispute, which has left hundreds of people dead amid allegations of massacres and sent tens of thousands fleeing their homes.

They had to turn back, however, unable to extract the strongman who has run Ivory Coast for more than 10 years from his bunker.

The lawyers' appeal, which was cleared with Ouattara, was in line with "the spirit and the letter" of UN Security Council Resolution 1975 adopted last month, they said.

The resolution calls for necessary measures to protect civilians and prevent the use of heavy weapons against civilian populations.

"It is urgent. The survival of Abidjan's people is threatened; Alassane Ouattara's physical security and that of his government are at stake," the lawyers said.

"Inaction encourages violence," they said, adding: "Hesitation protects and strengthens ... the usurper and his system."

Ouattara was meanwhile under increasing pressure over allegations that his forces had committed atrocities in the west of the country as they advanced on Abidjan late last month.

Human Rights Watch said they had killed or raped hundreds of people and burned villages, citing new evidence of summary killings of Gbagbo supporters in the far west.

The crippling dispute in the world's top cocoa producer has hit food supplies and sanitation amid cuts in water and power, with UN agencies warning of the threat of mass outbreaks of disease including a resurgence of cholera in Abidjan.

© 2011 AFP

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