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Gbagbo defiant as troops close in

Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo has denied claims he is negotiating a surrender as troops loyal to the country's internationally recognised president surrounded his bunker in Abidjan.

Despite dozens of his troops being seen entering a church where they stripped off their uniforms and abandoned their weapons, Gbagbo has told journalists he will not relinquish power..

Earlier, Gbagbo's three top generals said they had ordered their men to stop fighting, the United Nations (UN) said in a statement, a move which looked to 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 on opponents in the four months since his rival, Alassane Ouattara, was declared the winner of the contested vote.

Choi Young-jin, the top United Nations envoy in Ivory Coast claimed that Mr Gbagbo's surrender was "imminent". Mr Choi said: "He accepted (the) principle of accepting the results of the election, so he doesn't have many cards in his hands. The key element they are negotiating is where 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."

Gbagbo representative Toussaint Alain later claimed his residence was being bombarded by the French army, but the French military denied the claim.

"France will be held responsible for the death of President Gbagbo, his wife and family members and all those who are inside the residence, which is being bombarded by the French army," he said, adding "there is a real danger" that Gbagbo and the others could be killed in the operation.

French military spokesman Thierry Burkhard denied that French forces were firing at Gbagbo's residence, saying no French or UN operation was under way. Mr Ouattara's forces have received strict instructions to take him unharmed, said several members of the president's cabinet.

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