Gbagbo calls on civilians to join I.Coast struggle

Fri Mar 18, 2011 6:23pm GMT

By Tim Cocks and Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Laurent Gbagbo has called on Ivory Coast's civilians to help his forces "neutralise" suspected rebels, raising fears of a return to all out civil war as fighting continued in Abidjan on Friday.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said Thursday's bombing of civilians which it blamed on pro-Gbagbo forces may constitute a crime against humanity. Gbagbo's camp has denied responsibility.

The world's top cocoa grower risks slipping back into open conflict after a disputed November 28 election, which Alassane Ouattara won, according to internationally-recognised results, but Gbagbo refuses to concede despite sanctions and isolation.

Speaking on state-run RTI television just before midnight, Gbagbo's government spokesman Ahoua Don Mello called on Ivorian civilians to join the fight against what he called "terrorism".

"His Excellency Mr Laurent Gbagbo calls on Ivorians to take a great responsibility and for a stronger collaboration between citizens and the security forces ... so that all suspect presences in our environment can be 'neutralised'," he said.

After a cabinet meeting on Friday, Gbagbo's government reiterated a call for dialogue with the opposition but Ouattara has long said Gbagbo's departure is the prerequisite for talks.

In recent weeks, the post-election crisis has escalated into full scale clashes between rival forces in Abidjan and the west, across a north-south ceasefire line from a 2002-3 civil war.

At least 25 people were killed when pro-Gbagbo forces fired a series of mortar rounds into Abidjan's northern Abobo district on Thursday, including one that exploded in a busy marketplace, the U.N. peacekeeping mission said.   Continued...

<p>Ivory Coast incumbent Laurent Gbagbo (C) arrives to pay his respects during a funeral and memorial service for Ivory Coast's military, gendarmerie and police personnel who died during the post-election crisis, in Abidjan February 4, 2011. REUTERS/ Thierry Gouegnon</p>
Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.