In Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, forces loyal to the internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara surround the home of incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo who has refused to give up power. There is heavy fighting in Abidjan's Cocody neighborhood around Gbagbo's residence, but it is unclear if he is inside.
Pro-Ouattara forces took control of state television late Thursday, its last images showing Gbagbo in the driveway joking with supporters.
Gbagbo is seen outside in a colorful, open-necked shirt, smiling for the cameras with his arm around spokesman Ahoua Don Mello. Mello said earlier that Gbagbo was planning to make a nationwide address. But his state-run television is now off the air.
Troops previously loyal to Gbagbo surrendered control of Abidjan's airport to United Nations peacekeepers. With Gbagbo's army chief of staff and his family seeking shelter at the home of the South African ambassador, Ouattara is calling on all government troops to join him.
Ouattara says all member of the military who are hesitating - whether they be generals, officers, or rank-and-file soldiers - should put themselves at the disposal of the country and return to legality, and that there is still time to "join their brothers-in-arms."
The fight for Abidjan follows a lightning offensive by pro-Ouattara troops who apparently met little resistance as they captured territory along the Liberian border, took control of the political capital, Yamoussoukro, and the port of San Pedro, and gained ground along the eastern border with Ghana.
The United Nations says nearly 500 people have been killed since the political crisis began in early December, when Gbagbo refused to accept electoral commission results certified by the United Nations. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is urging all parties to avoid harming civilians and is repeating his demand that Gbagbo immediately give up power so Ouattara can take charge.
Article by Scott Stearns, VOA News