Forces loyal to democratically elected President Alassane Ouattara have launched an assault on the home of incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to leave office since November elections, ratcheting up pressure on Gbagbo to negotiate a surrender with the United Nations.
The siege on his home marks the end of a lull in fighting during which there was hope for a breakthrough in talks. But Gbagbo claims to be the rightful winner and says he would only be reaching a deal, not surrendering. He is reportedly in a bunker in his residence, which Ouattara’s forces have entered.
Forces supporting Outtara have been advancing through cities in Ivory Coast in recent weeks in an effort to force incumbent Gbagbo out. They seized his home in Abidjan Tuesday, forcing him into the bunker.
President Obama said in a statement Tuesday, “To end this violence and prevent more bloodshed, former President Gbagbo must stand down immediately, and direct those who are fighting on his behalf to lay down their arms.” He praised the U.N. and France’s efforts to mediate the crisis. The U.N. Security Council had authorized peacekeepers to use force to protect civilians from fighting. Hundreds have died in violence since the disputed election.
The French military, which has maintained a peacekeeping presence in the country since 1960, when Ivory Coast became independent, has been authorized to assist foreigners.
Japan Says Radioactive Leak into Pacific Ocean Plugged
Officials say that a leak of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean at the badly damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has been stopped, easing fears of seafood contamination. Despite the success of plugging the leak, workers at the plant face a daunting task as they struggle to cool the reactors. They plan to inject nitrogen with the hope of staving off another explosion at the plant.
Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, said the move was a “precaution” and that no further explosions were likely imminent, a reference to a series of explosions that happened in the immediate aftermath of the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s eastern coast on March 11.
The U.S. government is sending engineers to assist in bringing the plant under control. According to the New York Times, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission Assessment showed concern that the influx of water could place stress on the containment structure, posing a threat in the event of another big aftershock. The report examines the risks of pouring water in, a process that may not be viable over the long term. The effects of pouring water onto the nuclear fuel are relatively unknown to nuclear experts. Estimates say the cooling process could take months.
U.S. Envoy in Libya, Rebels Pushed Further East
(2 p.m. ET | Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi sent a letter to President Obama asking him to end NATO air strikes, calling them an “unjust war against a small people of a developing country”, The Associated Press reports.
“Despite all this you will always remain our son whatever happened. We still pray that you continue to be president of the U.S.A. We Endeavour and hope that you will gain victory in the new election campaigne,” the letter said.)
Amid military setbacks for rebel forces in Misrata and Brega, Chris Stevens, formerly a diplomat at the embassy in Tripoli, is meeting with opposition representatives in Benghazi to discuss possible avenues for helping fund the rebels, who are significantly less financed and armed than leader Moammar Gadhafi’s military.
His visit adds to the list of recent diplomatic boosts — Italy joined France and Kuwait in recognizing the opposition’s governing council as the legitimate government of Libya — but there have been no concrete steps to arm the rebels. NATO air strikes on Gadhafi’s forces continue, but in places like Misrata rebels say they are often too late to prevent attacks by government troops.
Despite being forced to retreat near the oil port of Brega, rebels hope to begin selling oil from opposition-held areas as a source of fresh funding. A Greek oil tanker has arrived in Tobruk to pick up oil to be exported for sale.
Former Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., is in Tripoli to meet with Gadhafi in an attempt to convince him to step down. Weldon had traveled to Libya previously as the leader of a congressional delegation.
Protests Grow in Southern Yemen
Tens of thousands of protesters were seen in the southern city of Taiz calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down and holding a city-wide labor strike. The fresh round of protests continue despite a government crackdown in which hundreds have died in recent weeks.
Yemen’s foreign minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, told the Telegraph that the town of Abiyan had fallen into the hands of an al-Qaeda off-shoot known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a point of concern for officials monitoring the development of terrorist groups in the area. Yemen’s government has also been weakened by separatist groups and poverty, and its increasingly fragile position has caused alarm for U.S. officials.
Yemen has been allied with the United States in efforts to halt plots similar to the failed 2009 Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner and package bombs in cargo planes in October 2010, both of which were attributed to the group. Some fear anarchy within Yemen, and the continued weakening of its government will likely reinforce its reputation as a haven for terror groups.