THE spectre of civil war loomed over the Ivory Coast last night amid growing fears that a notorious youth militia loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo might attempt to storm the hotel where his rival, Alassane Ouattara, has taken refuge.
Sectarian violence has spilled on to the streets of Abidjan following last month's presidential election, in which Mr Gbagbo refused to cede power despite international condemnation and recognition that he lost the vote.
Mr Ouattara and his government-in-waiting have been forced to take shelter in the city's Golf Hotel, a luxury compound protected by UN troops who are themselves blockaded by thousands of Mr Gbagbo's supporters.
After a relative lull in sectarian violence, which has already killed more than 170 people, tensions have once again reached boiling point following a threat from a militia leader, Charles Ble Goude, to the effect that Mr Ouattara's supporters have until today to "pack up their bags".
The UN yesterday said its Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, was "deeply alarmed" by the threats and had warned that any attempt to take the hotel could reignite a civil war which tore the country in half seven years ago and destabilised what was once a West African economic success story.
Mr Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said the UN Secretary-General called on Mr Gbagbo's supporters to "refrain from such dangerous irresponsible action" and insisted that the 800 troops guarding the hotel would defend themselves if attacked.
At a news conference yesterday, Guillaume Soro -- appointed prime minister by Mr Ouattara -- said more than 200 people had been killed and 1,000 wounded in violence over the disputed vote.
He said the Ivory Coast was "indeed in a civil war situation".
As head of the Young Patriots, a youth militia staunchly loyal to Mr Gbagbo and deeply hostile towards foreigners, Mr Ble Goude is regarded as a major power player within Ivorian politics.
Fluent in English, he briefly studied at Manchester University before returning to set up his youth militia during the 2002-2003 civil war.
He forged himself a reputation as a tough "street general" and used his militia to run violent anti-French and anti-UN gangs that terrorised the foreign population in the Ivory Coast between 2004 and 2005.
Amid growing concerns that nationalist rhetoric emanating from the Gbagbo camp might restart the xenophobic violence of that period, France's Foreign Ministry yesterday reiterated a call for its citizens to leave the Ivory Coast. (© Independent News and Media)