Forces loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara launched a heavy attack Wednesday on the bunker where Laurent Gbagbo was defying efforts to force him to cede power, residents said.
The French military confirmed that fighting was under way around Gbagbo’s residence, but said that French troops in the city were not involved.
A spokeswoman for Ouattara’s forces said Ouattara’s fighters were storming Gbagbo’s residence, where Gbagbo has been holed up since Ouattara’s forces swept into Abidjan backed by helicopter strikes by the United Nations and France.
“They are in the process of entering the residence to seize Gbagbo,” Affousy Bamba said. “They have not taken him yet, but they are in the process.”
Gbagbo has ruled Ivory Coast since 2000.
Negotiations to persuade him to quit stalled after he resisted international pressure to sign a document renouncing his claim to power.
“If Gbagbo has refused to sign the documents they (UN and France) presented to him yesterday, it is because they proposed something that had no legal and judicial basis,” Gbagbo’s spokesman Ahoua Don Mello told Reuters.
A defiant Gbagbo had earlier denied reports he was ready to surrender after a fierce assault by forces loyal to Ouattara, whose victory in November’s presidential election Gbagbo has refused to accept.
“We are not at the negotiating stage. And my departure from where? To go where?” Gbagbo told French radio RFI.
Gbagbo had told French television channel LCI his army had only called for a ceasefire after its weaponry was destroyed by French and UN air strikes on Monday.
He had suggested direct talks with Ouattara, an offer that was not accepted. “I’m not a kamikaze. I love life.
My voice is not the voice of a martyr, no, no, no, I’m not looking for death. It’s not my aim to die,” Gbagbo, said by telephone.
“For peace to return to Ivory Coast, I and Ouattara, the two of us have to talk,” he added.
Ouattara’s forces were ordered not to kill Gbagbo.
“Alassane Ouattara has given formal instructions that Gbagbo is to be kept alive because we want to bring him to justice,” said Ouattara spokesman Patrick Achi.
The French armed forces chief said Gbagbo could surrender within hours.—Reuters