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Ivory Coast standoff may be near end amid battles

Soldiers of the French military mission in Ivory Coast patrol a street Friday in Abidjan. Fighters have encircled Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s residence and the presidential palace.

ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Soldiers of the French military mission in Ivory Coast patrol a street Friday in Abidjan. Fighters have encircled Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s residence and the presidential palace.

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Laurent Gbagbo's 10-year grip on the Ivory Coast seemed to be in its final hours Friday after fighters encircled both his residence and the presidential palace, and battled to unseat the man who has refused to recognize his defeat in last year's presidential election.

Even in the face of a rapid military advance that has swept across the world's largest cocoa producer and arrived at his doorstep, Gbagbo rejected calls to step down.

His aides said they will never give in, even though nearly 80 percent of the West Africa country and large swaths of its largest city are controlled by an armed group fighting to install the internationally recognized winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara.

"There is no question of ceding," said Gbagbo's presidential aide, Fred Anderson. "It's not up to the international community to impose our leader."

In the Cocody neighborhood where the presidential mansion is located, families slept in bathrooms and on the floor as successive blasts punctuated the all-night assault.

People living near the presidential palace a few miles to the west felt a barrage of explosions, some so strong they made the walls of buildings tremble.

Gbagbo delayed the November election by five years, canceling it every year only to promise, but fail, to hold it the next.

Ouattara's victory with 54 percent of the vote was recognized first by the country's electoral commission and then by the United Nations, which pored over thousands of tally sheets before certifying the results. He has been recognized by governments around the world, and leaders from President Barack Obama to French President Nicolas Sarkozy have made personal appeals to Gbagbo to step down.

"This turn of events is a direct consequence of the intransigence of the outgoing president, Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, who has repeatedly refused to heed calls for him to cede the reins of power in the country to the president-elect, Mr. Alassane Ouattara," said a statement Friday by the regional Economic Community of West African States.

Gbagbo, 65, has not been seen in public since the offensive began Monday, but those in his inner circle say he is still in Abidjan and will fight until the end.

Ouattara, 69, ordered land and sea borders closed to seal all the exits in case Gbagbo attempts to flee, said Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marie Kacou-Gervais. "His inner circle is trying to run, but they won't be able to," he said.

Human toll

At least 1 million people have fled Abidjan and 494 have been killed during the four months of violence waged by strongman Laurent Gbagbo's security forces, according to the United Nations. Today, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that more than 800 died Tuesday in violence in the city of Duekoue.

Ivory Coast standoff may be near end amid battles 04/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 2, 2011 12:06am]

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