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Ivory Coast leader shows no mercy to civilians

On Monday, as President Barack Obama made the claim for a cautious foreign intervention policy in which the U.S. got involved in Libya because "Qaddafi declared that he would show 'no mercy' to his own people," forces loyal to incumbent, internationally scorned Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo showed no mercy to his own citizens, gunning down at least 10 in the capital, Abidjan.

Pro-Gbagbo youth also were accused of killing one man by putting a tire around his neck and setting him ablaze. Additionally, Gbagbo's forces opened fire on a UN helicopter, missing, but still committing what the UN called a war crime.

"Noting the increasing incidents of human rights violations and barbarous practices, we feel justified in questioning the control President Laurent Gbagbo has over his security forces and partisans," the local U.N. peacekeeping mission said in a statement Tuesday.

While the world barely debates any intervention in Ivory Coast, rebel forces loyal to UN-backed, President-elect Alassane Ouattara made gains against the army loyal to Gbagbo, seizing swaths of western territory outside of their traditional northern stronghold.

This cocoa- and coffee-rich country, formerly the jewel of West Africa, has been beset by violence and chaos since the disputed Nov. 28 presidential election. Up to 1 million people have fled the fighting and at least 462 people have been killed because Gbagbo is refusing to leave after a decade in power, and the dispute degenerates into full-scale war.

Rebels backing Ouattara extended their gains this past week by capturing a strategic crossroads and later advanced toward the capital Tuesday. Outtara himself is at a crossroads, having been hesitant to accept the rebels support should they commit abuses in his name. He recently cautiously embraced the rebel cause after it became apparent Gbagbo was willing to resort to extreme violence and the international community would not get involved.

Capt. Leon Alla, Ouattara's defense spokesman, said the central city of Daloa fell at 1 a.m. Tuesday. Several hours earlier the town of Bondoukou in the country's east had fallen, he said.

The United Nations said that fighting was still raging Tuesday morning in the two towns - Daloa in the central region and Bondoukou in the east - and that some 20,000 people had sought refuge at a Catholic mission in a third city, Duekoue, that rebels seized Monday morning.

"Terrified displaced persons have been streaming in, some with gunshot wounds as they cannot receive emergency treatment from the local hospital," said Jacques Seurt, the U.N. refugee agency's emergency coordinator in Ivory Coast, describing conditions in Duekoue.

Highways from Daloa lead south to the port of San Pedro and east to the administrative capital of Yamassoukro. Advisers to Ouattara say that if the fighters take either San Pedro or Yamassoukro, Gbagbo will likely buckle and accept an offer of exile.

Access to the San Pedro port is considered to be especially important since it can be used to resupply the rebels who do not currently have access to the sea. The Abidjan port is still controlled by Gbagbo.

A military commander with the local U.N. mission said that pro-Ouattara forces are continuing to advance east out of Daloa toward Bouafle, only 35 miles from Yamoussoukro. Rebels left behind in Daloa have been looting businesses, he said, targeting Lebanese and Moroccan shopowners.

In the country's largest city of Abidjan, suspected supporters of Ouattara are being pulled out of their cars and burned alive or beaten to death with bricks and iron bars.

The majority of the U.N. count of 462 confirmed killings were carried out by Gbagbo's security forces against Muslims and northerners perceived as being supporters of Ouattara, Human Rights Watch said in a report released earlier this month.

But rebels allied with Ouattara are accused of carrying out revenge killings in a predominantly Ebrie village, an ethnic group that voted in large numbers for Gbagbo.

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