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Strongman refuses to cede power

Artillery has hit the residence of France's ambassador to Ivory Coast for the second time in two days, the French embassy said, a possible show of defiance from the country's strongman who has resisted international pressure to emerge from a bunker and cede power.

The embassy said in a statement that the residence was hit by two mortars and a rocket fired from positions held by forces supporting strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who is holed up in a bunker at his residence next door to the French compound.

The statement did not say if there were casualties and noted that a UN Security Council resolution would permit them to destroy the weapons used to target the French compound.

Mr Gbagbo has for days resisted military and diplomatic pressure to emerge and step down. Forces first attempted to bomb him out. When that failed, they tried a ground assault on the bunker.

On Friday, internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara imposed a blockade around Mr Gbagbo's presidential residence, and said he will focus on normalising life in the corpse-strewn, terrorised city.

As the military stand-off dragged on in Abidjan, there were new concerns about tensions erupting into deadly violence in the country's west. The UN said more than 100 bodies have been found in the last 24 hours, and some of the victims had been burned alive.

"All the incidents appear at least partly ethnically motivated," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

The International Rescue Committee is warning that chaos is permeating this West African nation once split in two by a 2002-2003 civil war.

"We're concerned that looting, hostility, bloodshed, reprisal killings and sexual assaults will escalate in communities across the country," said Louis Falcy, the IRC's country director in Ivory Coast.

Mr Ouattara, who was internationally recognised as having won November's poll, said on TV late that his forces are setting up a perimeter around the presidential compound where Mr Gbagbo is staying with his family. Mr Ouattara said the goal is to wait for Mr Gbagbo to run out of food and water.

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