Ivory Coast junta leader flees

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The Independent Online

Control slipped from the grasp of junta leader Gen. Robert Guei on Wednesday, as many of his security forces turned against him and joined thousands of demonstrators swarming the streets to protest his claim to have won presidential elections, soldiers said.

Control slipped from the grasp of junta leader Gen. Robert Guei on Wednesday, as many of his security forces turned against him and joined thousands of demonstrators swarming the streets to protest his claim to have won presidential elections, soldiers said.

Guei fled Abidjan late this morning, possibly for Cotonou in nearby Benin, said Guei's former information minister, Henri Cesar Sama, who was among the soldiers who turned against him.

Other soldiers, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Guei had lost power, but did not know where he had fled.

Laurent Gbagbo, the opposition leader who also claimed to have won Sunday's presidential vote, addressed hundreds of cheering supporters outside his campaign headquarters in suburban Abidjan.

He thanked them for opposing what he called Guei's "electoral coup d'etat."

"I thank you for responding massively to this appeal. You went out in the hundreds of thousands. I pay particular homage to those who died in the cause of this. We will give them a funeral befitting their courage," he said.

The crowd cheered when truckloads of pro-Gbagbo police and military drove into the compound.

Guei's loss of power came in the middle of a tumultuous day, as mutineers - who apparently backed Gbagbo - fought loyalist comrades in an Abidjan military base before dawn. Hours later, thousands of Gbagbo's supporters swarmed Abidjan neighborhoods, setting up barricades, lighting fires and screaming for Guei's resignation.

As the crisis continued, witnesses reported seeing more and more security forces joining the ranks of the protesters.

By midday, witnesses said demonstrators had overrun broadcast facilities for state radio and television, and thousands more were outside the broadcast offices downtown.

Others were near Guei's residence, in an exclusive neighborhood on the edge of downtown.

The protesters had earlier repeatedly surged on the buildings, only to flee as security forces fired, most of the time apparently fired in the air. Much of the shooting had died down by midday, though scattered gunfire continued near the presidential offices downtown and in other neighborhoods.

At least two people were killed and four were injured in the clashes, witnesses said. At least two also died Tuesday, though Gbagbo's supporters said nine were killed that day.

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