ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – A notorious youth leader, under United Nations sanctions for inciting hatred, called Friday on citizens of Ivory Coast to barricade their neighborhoods and chase out foreigners.
Charles Ble Goude, recently named youth minister by sitting president Laurent Gbagbo, said the political crisis was coming to a head, and now was the time for "real" Ivorians to protect the country. In 2004, Goude's Young Patriots led attacks against French citizens, causing the country's large expatriate community to flee. An untold number of French women were gang raped.
Elsewhere, a nationwide curfew was called for the second consecutive weekend, after a week of bloody clashes between security forces loyal to Gbagbo and militias allied with his challenger Alassane Ouattara.
Gbagbo's government also announced that the U.N. and French forces would no longer receive fuel.
According to results issued by the country's electoral commission, which were verified by the United Nations, Gbagbo lost the Nov. 28 presidential election to Ouattara.
But the entrenched leader who has ruled Ivory Coast for 10 years has refused to leave, and with the backing of the army and Goude's militia he has succeeded in clinging to power, while Ouattara remains confined to the grounds of a resort hotel where he is under 24-hour U.N. guard.
In the three months since the election, Gbagbo's security forces have pummeled pro-Ouattara neighborhoods, killing as many as 300 people, according to the U.N.
But this week for the first time, a pro-Ouattara group calling itself the 'invisible commandos' began fighting back.
The group claimed in a news release to have killed 27 police and paramilitary forces loyal Gbagbo in the Abobo district of Abidjan. Daily battles with machine guns, grenades and rocket launchers have continued throughout the city ever since.
The United Nations has warned that this week's escalation is a breach of a six-year-old cease-fire and could hail the beginning of a new civil war.
On Friday, streams of people could be seen fleeing the area with their families and possessions.
Gbagbo spokesman Ahoua Don Mello called the fighters who've taken up arms in Abobo "terrorists" and said they were drawn from the group of rebels allied with opposition Ouattara, who was internationally recognized as the poll's winner but has been forced to govern from a local hotel because Gbagbo remains inside the presidency.
"These rebels were living in the Golf (Hotel) with Alassane Ouattara and they left to infiltrate the pro-Ouattara neighborhoods," he said. "Now they are trying to start a revolution."
Ouattara's camp denies any connection with the commandos. Spokesman Patrick Achi says they are citizens tired of police attacks who are defending themselves.
"The people of Abobo have been subject to the worst police brutality, killings and harassment for the last two years, they're fed up," he said, adding that he believes they got their weapons from dead police and soldiers.
Locals say the commandos wear magic amulets that they believe protect them from bullets. Their leader, they said, is called Commander "Fonyant," which means "wind" in the Malinke language — because his presence can be felt, but not seen.
"The shooting and explosions have been going on all week," said Isaac Traore, who was fleeing Abobo with his family on foot. "As soon as it stopped, we left to go stay with my aunt."
Among the Traore's group of 12, the men carried plastic bags and backpacks, the women babies on their backs and bundles on their heads.
There will be little room for them all in their aunt's small apartment, "but it's better than being killed," Traore said.