UPDATED: BREAKING NEWS: Ivory Coast: Rival Troops Fighting Inside Gbagbo Palace

6 Apr

LATEST BREAKING NEWS UPDATE:

Troops have stormed the palace where Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo is hiding out – according to a spokesman of his presidential rival.

Ivory Coast: Rival Troops Enter Gbagbo Palace Enlarge photo

“They are in the process of entering the residence to seize Gbagbo,” the spokesman said.

“They have not taken him yet, but they are in the process. They are in the building.”

Gbagbo has defied calls to give up the presidency after election results in November – verified by the UN – showed rival Alessane Ouattara won.

French officials have confirmed fighting is underway around Gbagbo’s residence in Abidjan but that their troops were not involved.

A French Government source said that fighting began after Gbagbo showed he was unwilling to negotiate with mediators trying to persuade him to leave power.

A defiant Gbagbo had earlier denied he was willing to surrender despite a fierce assault by forces loyal to Ouattara.

He told French radio RFI: “We are not at the negotiating stage. And my departure from where? To go where?”

Gbagbo had told French television channel LCI his army had only called for a ceasefire after its weaponry was destroyed by French and UN air strikes on Monday.

“I’m not a kamikaze. I love life. My voice is not the voice of a martyr, no, no, no, I’m not looking for death. It’s not my aim to die,” he said.

“For peace to return to Ivory Coast, I and Ouattara, the two of us have to talk.”

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said the only thing left to discuss with Gbagbo was his departure

“This obstinacy is absurd. Gbagbo has no future henceforth. Everybody’s dropped him,” he said.

“With the United Nations, which is at the helm, we are going to continue to exert pressure on him to face up to reality.”

More than 1,500 people are reported to have died in the stand-off that has rekindled the country’s 2002-03 civil war.

Gbagbo said talking surrender in Ivory Coast
Play Video AP  – Gbagbo said talking surrender in Ivory Coast

Gunfire at Gbagbo bunker as I.Coast exit talks fail
AFP – Pro-Ouattara fighters prepare for the so-called “final assault” in Abidjan. Ivory Coast strongman …

PARIS – Laurent Gbagbo‘s European representative says French forces have opened fire on the residence of embattled Ivorian strongman from helicopters and a nearby rooftop.

Toussaint Alain told the AP in a telephone interview Wednesday that “there is a real danger” that Gbagbo, his wife and other family members who are holed up in the residence could be killed.

Alain said French forces are firing from two Puma helicopters and also from the rooftop of the French ambassador’s residence nearby.

French Military Spokesman Thierry Burkhard denied that French forces are firing at the residence.

Heavy arms fire could be heard near the country’s presidential palace. Hotel guests near the palace reported hearing shelling and machine-gun fire.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Ivory Coast’s strongman Laurent Gbagbo tried to hang on to power for one more day Wednesday from inside a bunker encircled on all sides by soldiers loyal to his rival. Diplomats said he had sent emissaries to negotiate, only to then refuse the proposals put before him.

Although Gbagbo is cornered and his army is rapidly disbanding, getting him out of the bunker is not an easy matter. Forces backing internationally recognized leader Alassane Ouattara have received strict instructions to take him unharmed, said several members of the president’s cabinet.

After the evening newscast Tuesday, Ouattara’s private TV station showed the movie “The Fall,” which traces the last days of Adolf Hitler inside a bunker in Germany.

“This stubbornness is absurd. Gbagbo has no other solution anymore. Everybody has dropped him,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France Info radio Wednesday. “He is holed up in the bunker in his residence so we will continue with the United Nations, which is handling that, to put pressure on him so he accepts to acknowledge the reality: There is only one legal and legitimate president today, it is Alassane Ouattara and I hope that persuasion will win and that we will avoid having to resume the military operations.”

Down the hill from Gbagbo’s luxurious compound, dozens of his soldiers were seen entering a church Tuesday where they stripped off their uniforms and abandoned their weapons. Gbagbo’s three top generals also said they had ordered their men to stop fighting, the United Nations said in a statement.

The developments spell game over for a man who refused to accept defeat in last year’s election and took his country to the precipice of civil war in his bid to preserve power. His security forces are accused of using cannons, mortars and machine guns to mow down opponents in the four months since Ouattara was declared the winner of the contested vote.

But analysts say Ouattara is acutely aware that while he won last year’s election with 54 percent of the vote, Gbagbo received 46 percent — representing nearly half the electorate. A diplomat who speaks to Ouattara frequently said that the leader is aware of the danger involved at this stage, because if Gbagbo is killed it may galvanize his supporters.

Choi Young-jin, the top United Nations envoy in Ivory Coast said by telephone that Gbagbo’s surrender was “imminent.”

“He accepted (the) principle of accepting the results of the election, so he doesn’t have many cards in his hands,” Choi told Associated Press Television News. “The key element they are negotiating is where Mr. Gbagbo would go.”

Then, just as he appeared to be on the brink of stepping down, Gbagbo, in his first interview in months, defiantly insisted he had no intention of surrendering power.

“I won the election and I’m not negotiating my departure,” he told French TV station LCI by telephone from his bunker. “I find it absolutely incredible that the entire world is playing this … game of poker.”

Veteran observers of this nation on Africa’s western edge say the turn of events could have been taken from a biography of Gbagbo.

In Abidjan, he has long been called Le Boulanger, French for The Baker, because he rolls people in flour, a reference to a popular expression meaning to manipulate and deceive others. The election that was finally held last year was supposed to take place five years earlier.

He was given so many extensions that people here have lost count of how many times the poll was rescheduled.

“I think he’s playing for time,” said a senior diplomat who has closely followed events and spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been cleared to speak to the press. “His aim is always to buy himself just one more day.”

France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Gbagbo would be required to relinquish power in writing and must formally recognize Ouattara, the internationally backed winner of the November election.

After amassing at the outskirts of the city on Monday, forces loyal to Ouattara seized the presidential residence where Gbagbo has been holed up overnight. They moved in after the United Nations agreed to act on a Security Council resolution giving their peacekeepers the right to take out Gbagbo’s heavy artillery.

Mi-24 helicopters aided by French troops bombarded the outer perimeter of the compound. Those living nearby said the earth shook with each blast.

President Barack Obama said Tuesday the role of the U.N. was necessary to end the conflict. Ouattara’s forces had taken over three-quarters of the countryside between Monday and Wednesday of last week, but then faltered when they reached Abidjan, where Gbagbo had created a protective radius, manned by his most faithful soldiers.

“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,” Obama said in a statement.

Ivory Coast gained independence from France in 1960, and some 20,000 French citizens still lived there when a brief civil war broke out in 2002.

French troops were then tasked by the U.N. with monitoring a cease-fire and protecting foreign nationals in Ivory Coast, which was once an economic star and is still one of the only countries in the region with four-lane highways, skyscrapers, escalators and wine bars.

___

Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Michelle Faul in Accra, Ghana; and Jenny Barchfield and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

—————–

Fighting has broken out around the palace where Ivory Coast‘s Laurent Gbagbo is hiding out – with reports suggesting troops are close to capturing him.

Ivory Coast: Rival Troops Enter Gbagbo Palace Enlarge photo

Gbagbo has refused to surrender despite being holed up in a bunker surrounded by his rival’s troops and further international pressure.

Gbagbo has defied calls to give up the presidency after election results in November – verified by the UN – showed rival Alessane Ouattara won.

“I won the election and I’m not negotiating my departure,” he told French TV station LCI from a bunker at the presidential palace in the commerical capital Abidjan.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Gbagbo’s time was up.

“This obstinacy is absurd. Gbagbo has no future henceforth. Everybody’s dropped him,” he said.

“With the United Nations, which is at the helm, we are going to continue to exert pressure on him to face up to reality.”

French armed forces chief Admiral Edouard Guillaud said negotiations with Gbagbo “continued through the night but unfortunately I see no breakthrough for now”.

Despite refusing to quit the presidency, Gbagbo has said his army had called for a ceasefire after their weaponry was destroyed by the French and UN airstrikes.

And he has said he wants to open talks with Ouattara.

“I’m not a kamikaze. I love life. My voice is not the voice of a martyr, no, no, no, I’m not looking for death. It’s not my aim to die,” Gbagbo told LCI.

“For peace to return to Ivory Coast, I and Ouattara, the two of us have to talk.”

US President Barack Obama urged the embattled incumbent to step down immediately and voiced strong support for French and UN military efforts faced with the violence.

“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,” Mr Obama said in a statement.

Gbagbo’s army chief General Philippe Mangou, and two other generals requested their men surrender their arms to UN peacekeepers and seek protection.

“Following the bombardment by the French forces on some of our positions and certain strategic points in the city of Abidjan, we have ourselves stopped fighting and have asked the general commanding ONUCI (the UN force) for a ceasefire,” Mangou said.

More than 1,500 people are reported to have died in the stand-off that has rekindled the country’s 2002-03 civil war.

NEWS UPDATE:

By Tim Cocks and Ange Aboa Tim Cocks And Ange Aboa :

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara on Wednesday stormed the residence of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo who has refused to cede power, a spokeswoman for Ouattara forces told Reuters.

“Yes they (Ouattara forces) are in the process of entering the residence to seize Gbagbo, they have not taken him yet, but they are in the process, they are in the building,” Affousy Bamba told Reuters.

Residents around the presidential palace in Abidjan’s Cocody neighbourhood said they heard heavy gunfire and loud explosions coming from the direction of the palace.

“I have seen from my building the FRCI fighters (Ouattara forces) in pick-ups and 4×4 jeeps rushing toward Gbagbo’s residence, weapons in their hands,” Alfred Kouassi, who lives near Gbagbo’s residence in Cocody, told Reuters.

“We can hear automatic gunfire and also the thuds of heavy weapons coming from the residence,” he said.

Negotiations to persuade Gbagbo to quit suffered a setback when he resisted pressure from the United Nations and France to sign a document renouncing his claim to power.

A French source said the fresh fighting broke out when talks collapsed because Gbagbo who lost a U.N.-certified election but has refused to cede power, was unwilling to negotiate with mediators trying to secure his departure.

The French source said French forces, which took part in a U.N.-approved helicopter attack on Gbagbo’s heavy weapons on Monday, were not participating in the fighting on the ground around the presidential residence.

(Additional reporting by Yann Le Guernigou in Paris, Writing by Bate Felix, editing by Paul Taylor)

Ivory Coast Unrest Slideshow:Ivory Coast Unrest

UN forces target Ivory Coast's pres. Palace Play Video Video:UN forces target Ivory Coast’s pres. Palace AP

Ivory Coast residents await battle for control Play Video Video:Ivory Coast residents await battle for control AP

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