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Gbagbo Supporters Attack UN Troops In Cote d'Ivoire

Published on Thursday 20th January 2011 Gbagbo Supporters Attack UN Troops In Cote d'Ivoire

A group of youths supporting Côte d'Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday attacked UN peacekeepers providing security for Prime Minister Raila Odinga who is the African Union (AU) mediator to the West African state.

Witnesses said the pro-Gbagbo supporters calling themselves "The Youth Patriots" lined up the road leading to Pullman Hotel before Odinga's arrival from the Abidjan airport.

There were reports that UN troops exchanged fire with supporters of Mr Gbagbo on the road leading to Mr Odinga's hotel.

Speaking on phone from Abidjan, Mr Odinga clarified that the attack did not directly target him or his convoy. "That is not correct (that we came under attack)."

He added that he was safe as were the people who accompanied him to Abidjan.

The UN mission in the country condemned "repeated acts of aggression" and confirmed that its soldiers responded with gunfire after coming under attack.

The United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) said in a statement that a group of young people from Gbagbo's camp on Monday encircled UN forces waiting at a luxury hotel for the arrival of Mr Odinga.

"The armed elements, who were supporting them, opened fired in the direction of the UNOCI vehicles forcing the peacekeepers to respond by shooting in the air," it said.

Gbagbo government spokesman Ahoua Don told AFP on Monday that the incident, which was in the Plateau area where the strongman is supported, had caused some light injuries although not from the gunfire.

Gbagbo has repeatedly demanded that UN forces leave the country.

The UN Security Council was on Tuesday voting to send 2,000 more soldiers to Côte d'Ivoire, bringing the deployment to about 11,500 troops.

An aide travelling with Mr Odinga's, Mr Salim Lone, described the incident as "a small event" which only gained significance because the PM was expected at the hotel.

He said incidents of Mr Gbagbo's supporters attacking UN peacekeepers are common in Abidjan.

"Youth who gathered when they saw the UN cars had no idea Mr Odinga would be coming to the venue," he said in a telephone interview with Daily Nation.

Mr Lone said both Mr Gbagbo and his rival claimant to the presidency, Mr Alessane Ouattara, warmly received Mr Odinga when they separately met the PM.

Mr Odinga is on his second trip to Abidjan as the AU mediator to try and end the stalemate over disputed presidential elections.

In Nairobi, the director of the PM Press Service, Mr Dennis Onyango said Mr Odinga was still airborne when the incident happened.

"The clashes were part of the growing tension between Mr Gbagbo's supporters and the UN troops, which has led to other clashes in the recent past and may have had nothing to do with Mr Odinga's visit at all.

"The PM landed in Abidjan moments after the incident and was driven to his hotel by UN troops, as has been the case before. He is safely in his hotel and not at a UN facility.

"As has been the case before, he is guarded at the hotel by UN troops."

In Abidjan, the demonstrators violently attacked the convoy of UN soldiers who had come at the hotel to wait for Odinga, forcing the peacekeepers to make an about-turn.

Calm was restored when security forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo guarding the offices of the Central Bank of the West African States not far from the hotel, started shooting in the air to disperse the demonstrators.

Mr Odinga arrived at the Abidjan airport around 3pm local time.

Just like during his first visit early this month, he was welcomed at the airport by the Prime Minister in Gbagbo's government, Mr Gilbert Ake Ngbo, and Foreign Minister Alcide Djedje.

He was expected to stay at the Pullman Hotel from where he would go to meet Gbagbo at the presidential palace under the escort of pro-Gbagbo forces, and then meet with his presidential rival Alassane Ouattara at the Golf Hotel under the escort of the UN peacekeepers.

Côte d'Ivoire has been engulfed by deadly violence resulting from the disputed second round of presidential elections held on November 28.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara claimed the presidency after the vote, but the international community recognises Ouattara, who has been holed up in the Golf Hotel ever since.

Abidjan is in the hands of Gbagbo, who has controlled the country's southern part since the 2002-2003 civil war.

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