Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Gbagbo defiant as troops close in

Heavy fighting is raging in Ivory Coast as Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara vie for the country's presidency (AP)
Members of a youth militia loyal to strongman Laurent Gbagbo walk through the central Plateau neighbourhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast (AP)
French soldiers patrol as part of the French Force Licorne, in Port Bouet district of Abidjan (AP)

Ivory Coast's strongman leader Laurent Gbagbo has holed up in a bunker defiantly maintaining he won the election four months ago even as troops backing the internationally recognised winner encircled the presidential residence.

Gbagbo's comments by telephone to France's LCI television came as French officials and a diplomat said he was negotiating his departure terms after French and UN forces launched a military offensive.

Democratically elected leader Alassane Ouattara has urged his supporters to take Gbagbo alive.

Talks about Gbagbo's departure terms were continuing directly between Gbagbo and Mr Ouattara, according to a diplomat who asked not to be named.

France's foreign minister said Gbagbo would be required to relinquish power in writing after a decade as president, and must formally recognise Mr Ouattara, the internationally backed winner of the November election that plunged the West African nation into chaos.

But Gbagbo showed no intention of leaving, declaring in his interview with French television, that Mr Ouattara "did not win the elections" even though he was declared the victor by the UN, African Union, United States, former colonial power France and other world leaders.

"I won the election and I am not negotiating my departure," Gbagbo said.

United Nations and French forces opened fire with attack helicopters on Gbagbo's arms stockpiles and bases after four months of political deadlock in the former French colony in West Africa.

Columns of foot soldiers allied with Mr Ouattara also finally pierced the city limits of Abidjan.

The offensive that began on Monday included air attacks on the presidential residence and three strategic military garrisons, marking an unprecedented escalation in the international community's efforts to oust Gbagbo, as pro-Ouattara fighters pushed their way to the heart of the city to reach Gbagbo's home.

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