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Côte d'Ivoire - France

Foreigners flee Abidjan as Ouattara camp prepares new offensive

Reuters/ War Pol

Nearly 200 foreigners have fled the fighting in Abidjan as supporters of Côte d’Ivoire’s internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara said they were preparing a “rapid offensive” against the forces of his rival Laurent Gbagbo.

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The French military, which took control of Abidjan airport Sunday, said that 167 foreigners, including French and Lebanese nationals according to some reports, left for the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on a special flight Sunday.

Although Abidjan was calmbut tense Monday morning, Ouattara’s prime minister Guillaume Soro said that there “generalised panic among Gbagbo's troops”.

“The situation is now ripe for a rapid offensive," he told Ouattara's television station TCI.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has ordered "bringing together without delay all French citizens in Abidjan ... to ensure their protection", spoke to Ouattara three times by telephone on Sunday.

Paris sent 300 more troops to Abidjan to join the Licorne (Unicorn) force, as more than 1,500 foreigners sought refuge in a French military camp.

Gbagbo supporters said that army chief of staff General Philippe Mangou had returned to theirs camp and met their leader on Sunday after leaving the South African ambassador’s residence to which he fled last week.

Ouattara-controlled television said that Mangou was responding to threats to his family by the Gbagbo camp.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “concern and alarm” over reports of killings in the town of Dékoué in a phone call to Ouattara.

The Catholic mission Caritas reported 1,000 people “killed or disappeared” in a massacre there, while the International Red Cross said that 800 died in one day.

Soro’s spokesperson, Sidiki Konaté, said that his army had counted 152 bodies. Both camps deny being responsible for the killings.

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