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Gbagbo loyalists behind Ivory Coast attacks: government

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Fighters loyal to Ivory Coast‘s former president Laurent Gbagbo were behind a series of attacks that killed 10 soldiers in the commercial capital Abidjan since Sunday, the interior minister said on Tuesday.

The attacks on military and police targets have heightened fears of renewed instability in the West African nation as it emerges from a decade of political turmoil that ended last year in a brief civil war.

“(The assailants) were part of a network of pro-Gbagbo militias and soldiers,” Hamed Bakayoko told Reuters. “We have formal proof. We have the confessions of those we arrested yesterday with weapons and ammunition near the scene of the attack.”

Gunmen opened fire on a police station in Abidjan and a nearby military roadblock early on Sunday, killing five soldiers. Five others died when heavily armed fighters launched a raid on a military camp in the east of the city a day later.

The Defense Ministry said late on Monday the attacks, which follow a series of deadly cross-border raids by militants based in Liberia since the end of the civil war, aimed to “unsettle the people … and investors.”

Ivory Coast, the world’s top producer of cocoa, was the economic engine of French-speaking West Africa before a political crisis split the country in two a decade ago, setting the groundwork for last year’s civil war.

Some 3,000 people died in the violence, which erupted after Gbagbo refused to accept the victory of rival Alassane Ouattara in an election held in late 2010.

Gbagbo was captured during the battle for Abidjan in April last year and is now in The Hague awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.

Toussaint Alain, a former advisor and spokesman for Gbagbo now living in exile, rejected the accusations from the interior minister and called for an impartial investigation into the violence.

“These accusations don’t stand up. If Mr Bakayoko is holding the guilty parties, he should present them to the whole world,” he said.

“These attacks expose Mr Ouattara’s failure and inability to stabilize the security situation and establish a climate of lasting peace.”

Ouattara, now president, stated in an address broadcast on state television on Monday that he had given orders to “fight without mercy” those attempting to create a feeling of insecurity in Ivory Coast.

Ouattara has succeeded in improving security and the economy in much of the country in the year since he took office. However, U.N.-backed efforts to remove from circulation thousands of weapons left over from the conflict have faltered, and the army and police remain crippled by internal divisions.

The government has blamed Gbagbo’s political and military allies living in exile for an upsurge of violence in recent months.

Seven U.N. peacekeepers were among nearly two dozen people killed in a series of attacks in June in what Ivorian authorities said were cross-border raids by pro-Gbagbo militias and Liberian mercenaries based in Liberia.

Days later, the interior minister said Ivorian intelligence services had prevented a plot to overthrow the government organized by exiled military officers and an advisor to Gbagbo.

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Janet Lawrence)

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