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Ivory Coast: Laurent Gbagbo stays in bunker and vows not to surrender

April 8, 2011


Ivory Coast’s embattled leader Laurent Gbagbo is protected by a rump of just 200 soldiers in his bunker beneath the presidential palace, the French defence minister said, but he is refusing to surrender to advancing forces.

Ivory Coast leader in bunker vows not to surrender  

Soldiers loyal to Alassane Ouattara walk past deserted market stalls in Abidjan Photo: AP

Gerard Longuet said Mr Gbagbo has an estimated 1,000 troops left in Abidjan, as forces loyal to president-in-waiting Alassane Ouattara had the palace surrounded.

“We’re going to wait and let him come out like a rat,” said an adviser to Mr Ouattara

However, Mr Gbagbo refuses to give up his increasingly fragile position and continues to claim he won November’s election despite international pressure.

Europe-based adviser Toussaint Alain said by telephone that he had spoken to Mr Gbagbo and to the ruler’s wife, Simone, on Thursday and that their position had not changed.

“I reached the head of state and his wife less than an hour ago – and no, he will not surrender. President Gbagbo will not cede,” said Mr Alain. “It’s a question of principle. President Gbagbo is not a monarch. He is not a king. He is not an emperor. He is a president elected by his people.”

An armed group backing Mr Ouattara stormed the palace gates on Wednesday, but are fearful of killing the entrenched leader and stoking the rage of his supporters. Some 46 per cent of Ivorians voted for Mr Gbagbo in the November election that unleashed political chaos.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pressed Mr Gbagbo to step down before it is “too late” and cede power to internationally recognised president Mr Ouattara.

“It is absolutely necessary at this time that, before too late, he has to cede his power to the democratically elected leader, Mr Ouattara,” Mr Ban said, adding: “It is his last opportunity to gracefully exit from this.”

Mr Ban’s comments came as a UN official said Mr Gbagbo was still in contact with international representatives about a possible surrender even though his residence was under attack.

“Discussions continue with the UN using its good offices to the fullest extent possible,” said UN peacekeeping department spokesman Nick Birnback.

Amid the fighting late on Wednesday, French troops rescued the Japanese ambassador and seven others after fighters attacked them. In a video provided by the French military, the forces are seen rappelling from a helicopter with night vision goggles.

“Mercenaries took over my residence, but in the end I was saved by French troops,” said Yoshifumi Okamura, Japan’s ambassador to the Ivory Coast. Israel also asked French troops stationed in Abidjan to rescue its diplomats yesterday.

Mr Gbagbo is believed to be holed up in a tunnel originally built to connect the president’s home and the adjacent residence of the French ambassador.

Ivory Coast’s first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, is thought to have built the tunnel so he could take refuge inside the ambassador’s residence in the event of a coup.

Mr Ouattara’s spokeswoman Affoussy Bamba said that she was optimistic that the end was near. “He has nothing left. His arsenal is gone. His army has evaporated,” she said by telephone from Abidjan. “How much longer can he last?”

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