March 31, 2011 / 12:31 PM / 9 years ago

Jail break frees up to 5,000 in I.Coast's main city

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - As many as 5,000 prisoners escaped from the main jail in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan on Thursday following a gun battle, residents and a military source told Reuters.

The military source, loyal to Ivorian incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo, said the doors of the MACA prison were opened by forces loyal to presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara in the midst of an offensive aimed at toppling Gbagbo.

“They succeeded in taking the prison and liberating all of the prisoners,” he said, asking not to be named.

“They attacked our positions around the prison very early this morning.” the source said.

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, is verging on civil war after a disputed November election, with pro-Ouattara fighters sweeping south in recent days and threatening Gbagbo’s last stronghold Abidjan.

Residents near the jail said thousands of youths streamed out of the prison, which has a capacity of 3,000 prisoners but was believed to be holding over 5,000, and into the Yopougon neighbourhood of Abidjan.

“We heard gunfire early this morning, and afterward the doors of the prison opened and the prisoners left shouting for joy,” said Arsene Tano, a teacher.

Witnesses said they could hear gunfire through the morning and that soldiers had blocked off roads. It was not clear who was involved in the fighting.

World powers have recognized Ouattara as the winner of the poll, which U.N.-certified results showed he won by an 8-point margin. Ivory Coast’s top court, run by a staunch Gbagbo ally, reversed the results after Gbagbo’s camp complained of fraud.

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