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Battle goes on near Gbagbo home

Heavy arms fire rang out near Ivory Coast's presidential residence as the country's embattled leader remained holed up in a bunker there despite mediation efforts to force his surrender.

A spokeswoman for the government of internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara said on France-24 television that pro-Ouattara forces had entered the gates of Laurent Gbagbo's residence.

"At the current moment they have not yet captured Gbagbo but it will happen soon," Affoussy Bamba said from Abidjan. "They opened the gates and noted that the residence is surrounded by heavy weaponry. Now the objective is to capture him."

A senior diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Ivorian forces backing Mr Ouattara were attacking the compound again where Gbagbo is sheltering with his family.

Mr Ouattara's forces have received strict instructions to take Gbagbo unharmed, said several members of the president's cabinet.

Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in last year's election and took his country to the brink 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 Mr Ouattara was declared the winner of the contested vote.

But analysts say Mr Ouattara is acutely aware that while he won last year's election with 54% of the vote, Gbagbo received 46% - representing nearly half the electorate. Sources close to Mr Ouattara say he is aware that if Gbagbo is killed it may galvanise his supporters.

Choi Young-jin, the top United Nations envoy in Ivory Coast, said 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," Mr Choi said. "The key element they are negotiating is where Mr Gbagbo would go."

France's foreign minister Alain Juppe has said that Gbagbo would be required to relinquish power in writing and must formally recognise Mr Ouattara, the internationally backed winner of the November election.


From Belfast Telegraph