Ivory Coast's Ouattara plans new strike in Abidjan

ABIDJAN // Ivory Coast's internationally-recognised leader Alassane Ouattara is poised to launch a final push in Abidjan to defeat his cornered rival, a top official said yesterday as both sides deny committing atrocities.

The United Nations has sent an envoy to probe allegations of human-rights abuses in the wake of the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the western town of Duekoue.

In the economic capital Abidjan, fighting has abated since Ouattara troops first besieged the city five days ago, but his camp has said the time is ripe for a rapid offensive against Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to acknowledge that he lost November elections and is fighting to the last.

"The strategy was to surround the city of Abidjan, which we have succeeded in doing. We have sent soldiers to the centre of town to harass Gbagbo's troops, militia and mercenaries," said Ouattara's prime minister, Guillaume Soro, on Mr Ouattara's television station TCI.

"We have noticed that following this harassment there is a generalized panic among Mr Gbagbo's troops. The situation is now ripe for a rapid offensive," he said.

Weakened by the desertion of key allies and isolated by the international community when the battle for Abidjan began, Mr Gbagbo has clawed his way back, managing to repulse the attacks on his strongholds.

He has rallied supporters to form a "human shield" around his residence, and received a boost on Sunday when the army chief, General Philippe Mangou, who deserted the cause last week, left his refuge at the South African ambassador's home and met with him at his residence in an apparent change of heart.

As residents of the city of five million remain in lockdown in their homes as armed men patrol the streets, hundreds of foreigners have sought refuge at the French military camp and have started being flown out.

The French Licorne (Unicorn) force took control of the airport in Abidjan and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered "bringing together without delay all French citizens in Abidjan... to ensure their protection".

The French military meanwhile said 167 foreigners, including French and Lebanese nationals, left Abidjan on Sunday for the Senegalese capital Dakar on a special flight.

A final showdown is expected between rival forces after a four month stand-off following the elections as Mr Gbagbo, in power since 2000, refuses to step down despite having lost.

Weary of failed diplomatic efforts to resolve the post-election crisis, Mr Ouattara's army launched a lightning offensive, seizing much of the country, and reports are now emerging of brutal massacres in the west.

The United Nations assistant secretary general for human rights Ivan Simonovic arrived on Sunday to probe the accusations.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Sunday demanded Mr Ouattara take action against followers who may have taken part in mass killings.

In a telephone conversation with Mr Ouattara, Mr Ban expressed "concern and alarm" over reports of the killings in the town of Duekoue, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Mr Ouattara denied his followers were involved in the killings but said he had ordered an investigation, Mr Nesirky said.

Mr Gbagbo's spokesman in Paris, Toussaint Alain, also denied his troops had played any role in the massacres.

"This entire area is 90 per cent controlled by the rebellion which bears the responsibility for this massacre," he said.

The International Red Cross has said 800 died in Duekoue in one day in an incident "particularly shocking by its size and brutality".

The Catholic mission Caritas reported 1,000 were "killed or disappeared" while the UN mission gave an initial death toll of 330, saying that while both camps were involved in the mass killings, the majority of deaths were caused by pro-Ouattara fighters.

Sidiki Konate, the spokesman for Mr Ouattara's prime minister Soro, said his army counted 152 bodies, and not the massive toll alleged.

One in nine do not have enough to eat

Created in 1961, the World Food Programme is pledged to fight hunger worldwide as well as providing emergency food assistance in a crisis.

One of the organisation’s goals is the Zero Hunger Pledge, adopted by the international community in 2015 as one of the 17 Sustainable Goals for Sustainable Development, to end world hunger by 2030.

The WFP, a branch of the United Nations, is funded by voluntary donations from governments, businesses and private donations.

Almost two thirds of its operations currently take place in conflict zones, where it is calculated that people are more than three times likely to suffer from malnutrition than in peaceful countries.

It is currently estimated that one in nine people globally do not have enough to eat.

On any one day, the WFP estimates that it has 5,000 lorries, 20 ships and 70 aircraft on the move.

Outside emergencies, the WFP provides school meals to up to 25 million children in 63 countries, while working with communities to improve nutrition. Where possible, it buys supplies from developing countries to cut down transport cost and boost local economies.


The Boy and the Heron

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Ko Shibasaki

Rating: 5/5

The specs

Engine: 6-cylinder, 4.8-litre
Transmission: 5-speed automatic and manual
Power: 280 brake horsepower
Torque: 451Nm
Price: from Dh153,00
On sale: now

if you go

The flights

Air Astana flies direct from Dubai to Almaty from Dh2,440 per person return, and to Astana (via Almaty) from Dh2,930 return, both including taxes.

The hotels

Rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Almaty cost from Dh1,944 per night including taxes; and in Astana the new Ritz-Carlton Astana (www.marriott) costs from Dh1,325; alternatively, the new St Regis Astana costs from Dh1,458 per night including taxes.

When to visit

March-May and September-November


Citizens of many countries, including the UAE do not need a visa to enter Kazakhstan for up to 30 days. Contact the nearest Kazakhstan embassy or consulate.


The flights
Whether you trek after mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda or the Congo, the most convenient international airport is in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali. There are direct flights from Dubai a couple of days a week with RwandAir. Otherwise, an indirect route is available via Nairobi with Kenya Airways. Flydubai flies to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, via Entebbe in Uganda. Expect to pay from US$350 (Dh1,286) return, including taxes.
The tours
Superb ape-watching tours that take in all three gorilla countries mentioned above are run by Natural World Safaris. In September, the company will be operating a unique Ugandan ape safari guided by well-known primatologist Ben Garrod.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, local operator Kivu Travel can organise pretty much any kind of safari throughout the Virunga National Park and elsewhere in eastern Congo.