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The BBC's David Chazan
"It is not clear if there have been casualties"
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Haydon Warren-Gash, British Ambassador Abidjan
"It is a very confused situation"
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The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Abidjan
"It does seem that the soldiers have left"
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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
Ivory Coast opposition 'victory'
Huge crowds spilled onto the streets of Abidjan
The main opposition candidate in Ivory Coast's presidential election, Laurent Gbagbo, has appeared on national radio and television, declaring himself president.

In your hundreds and thousands throughout the country you took to the streets to ensure law won over force

Laurent Gbagbo's address to the nation
There are reports that former military ruler General Robert Guei has landed in Benin, having fled the presidential palace in the face of a mass uprising to force him from power.

These developments followed two days of violence and uncertainty, during which both candidates declared themselves the victor, and General Guei sent soldiers to halt the counting of votes.

Sunday's election itself had been criticised as flawed from the start, after a court ruled that two major political figures were ineligible to stand for the presidency.

Speaking on state radio on Wednesday, Mr Gbagbo declared himself the "first president of the second republic of Ivory Coast".

His words echoed those of General Guei, who had declared himself victor on Tuesday.

'Coup d'etat'

Mr Gbagbo described the general's actions as an "electoral coup d'etat" - something which he said Ivory Coast could not accept.

"That is why I called on you to resist," Mr Gbagbo said. "I thank you for having responded spontaneously and massively."

"In your hundreds and thousands throughout the country you took to the streets to ensure law won over force," he added.

Laurent Gbagbo
Gbagbo thanked demonstrators for their support
The state radio and television stations were also stormed as part of an uprising which a BBC correspondent in Abidjan says amounts to a popular revolution.

Members of the presidential guard fired from close range on protesters outside the television station, while some members of the military police appeared to be siding with the demonstrators.

But presidential guard commander Lieutenant Laurent Boka Yapi subsequently ordered his soldiers back to barracks.

"I do not want a civil war on my conscience," he told Agence France Presse, adding that he had no more contact with General Guei.

Key ally and former colonial power France has acknowleged that General Guei is no longer the leader of Ivory Coast - though Paris has not yet formally recognised Mr Gbagbo as head of state.

In a further development, Ivorian Communications Minister Captain Henri Sama resigned from the country's ruling military junta saying he recognised Mr Gbagbo as the poll winner.

The uprising was sparked by the controversial presidential election on Sunday, which Mr Gbagbo appeared to be winning until soldiers halted the count.

On Tuesday, General Guei dissolved the country's electoral commission and was formally declared the winner by the Interior Ministry.

Guei 'in Benin'

Eyewitnesses report having seen members of General Guei's family in Benin on Wednesday, though there are no confirmed reports that the general himself has arrived.

Journalists were kept away from the airport where the plane carrying the general's wife and children landed.

General Guei departed from Abidjan in a helicopter, following fighting near the presidential palace in the country's main city, Abidjan.

His departure came after thousands of protesters joined by members of the paramilitary police marched on the palace demanding that he step down.

There was intense gunfire on the streets of Abidjan on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Firing near the Akouedo military camp near Abidjan - the starting point for the mutiny that brought General Guei to power on 24 December last year - prompted fears of divisions within the military.

Future uncertain

Despite the uprising in support of Mr Gbagbo, the opposition in Ivory Coast remains divided.

The opposition leader Alassane Ouattara was excluded from the presidential race when a court ruled that he did not comply with nationality requirements to stand for the presidency.

Voters in Mr Ouattara's northern power base largely stayed away from the polls on Sunday.

Also excluded from the election was Emile Constant Bombet, candidate of the Ivory Coast Democratic Party, which governed the country until General Guei's December coup.

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See also:

25 Oct 00 | Africa
Ivory Coast's uncertain future
25 Oct 00 | Media reports
Ivory Coast minister defects
25 Oct 00 | Media reports
Guei victory speech
24 Oct 00 | Africa
Ivorian leader told to step down
25 Oct 00 | Africa
France confirms Guei departure
25 Oct 00 | Africa
In pictures: Ivory Coast uprising
25 Oct 00 | Media reports
Gbagbo addresses Ivorian nation
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