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UN and France fire on Gbagbo forces

United Nations (UN) and French helicopters have fired rockets on strongman Laurent Gbagbo's residence in an assault the UN said was to retaliate for attacks by his forces.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had authorised the Sunday strikes, accusing Gbagbo of using heavy weapons against Ivory Coast civilians and the UN forces trying to protect them.

Residents from nearby neighbourhoods reported seeing two UN Mi-24 attack helicopters and a French helicopter open fire on the residence, where Gbagbo is holed up in a bunker.

An Associated Press reporter saw the helicopters take off from the French military base followed minutes later by explosions coming from the direction of the residence. Successive waves of French helicopters took off from the base in the following hours and additional bombardments could be heard.

Gbagbo has been living in a bunker in his residence in Abidjan for nearly a week. After a decade in power, he refuses to step aside even though the UN has ruled that he lost the November presidential election to Alassane Ouattara.

Forces loyal to Gbagbo were encircled at the presidential residence earlier this week but broke out on Saturday, ambushing a patrol of soldiers loyal to his rival and advancing downtown.

Pro-Gbagbo forces also attacked UN headquarters on Saturday and again on Sunday.

In New York, a statement issued by the UN secretary-general accused Gbagbo and supporters of saying earlier in April that they were willing to negotiate an end to the crisis but that "they, in fact, used that time to regroup their forces and redeploy heavy weapons".

Since then, Mr Ban said, Gbagbo's forces have attacked UN peacekeepers, civilians and the Golf Hotel where Mr Ouattara is holed up. He urged Gbagbo again "to step aside immediately" and turn the government over to Mr Ouattara.

Gbagbo has lost control of virtually the entire country in the last two weeks as forces loyal to Mr Ouattara have swept down from the north and west into the commercial capital. U.N. and French forces joined the effort last week, and a first round of U.N. and French airstrikes destroyed much of his arsenal of tanks, mortars and other heavy weapons.

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