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Abidjan holds its breath, awaiting final battle

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Troops loyal to Alassane Ouattara drive a vehicle along a street in Abidjan. / AFP/Issouf Sanogo

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Residents barricaded themselves inside their homes Sunday, blanketing windows and pushing furniture against doors as this country on Africa’s western coast tensely awaited the final battle between the two men who claim the presidency.

Fighters backing the internationally recognized president, Alassane Ouattara, amassed at a tollbooth on the city’s northern edge, preparing for the final assault. Their leader was declared the winner of last November’s election, but Ouattara has not been able to assume office because outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo is refusing to yield power.

Water has been cut off to much of Abidjan, and on the empty streets, a handful of women with basins could be seen hurriedly crossing the waterfront highway to reach the lagoon. Men ventured out with plastic bags to scoop up water, holding the bags high in the air to signal to soldiers in firing positions that they were not armed.

Only about 20 miles separates the thousands of pro-Ouattara foot soldiers readying for battle from the lagoonside district where the presidential palace and mansion are located.

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