The army chief for Ivory Coast’s entrenched president has rejoined the military days after deserting and seeking refuge at a foreign diplomat’s residence.
Gen. Phillippe Mangou, his wife and five children have left the South African ambassador’s residence in Abidjan after fleeing there last week.
His departure had been seen as a major blow to strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power to internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara more than four months after the election.
Today the streets of Abidjan resembled a ghost town as the city’s residents tensely awaited a final battle for power.
Thousands of troops backing Mr Ouattara are amassed at toll booth 20 miles from the heart of Abidjan, where both the presidential palace and presidential mansion are located.
United Nations employees were ordered to take refuge inside the basement of their main building starting at 7am today.
The top UN diplomat in Ivory Coast estimates that as many as 50,000 members of Mr Gbagbo’s security force deserted or defected in the hours after the pro-Ouattara forces descended on Abidjan last week. Despite the defections, Mr Gbagbo has done his best to fight back, issuing a call to arms to his supporters who descended on his residence yesterday to form a human shield.
Leaders around the world reiterated calls for Gbagbo to step down over the weekend.
“There has been too much bloodshed,” UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said. “I renew my call on Mr Gbagbo to step down to avoid further violence and transfer power immediately to the legitimate general candidate president Ouattara.”