Abidjan: Ivory Coast's internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara warned rival Laurent Gbagbo Tuesday that he had a "last chance" to peacefully step down, as fresh violence rocked Abidjan.
In an address to the nation on a television station he controls, Ouattara also reached out to his rival in a bid to end a bloody tug-of-war for the country's top job which has left some 400 dead since disputed November elections.
Ouattara has gained the diplomatic upper hand after the African Union last week endorsed his presidency, while forces backing him battle pro-Gbagbo troops for control of Abidjan, the financial capital.
"It is time that he accepts the will of the Ivorian people and the African Union," said Ouattara, dressed in a dark suit with the Ivorian flag at his side.
"He must understand that for him and those close to him it is his last chance to make a peaceful and honourable exit from the crisis," Ouattara said, reaffirming his willingness to "form a government of national unity."
While Ouattara has offered an inclusive government which would include Gbagbo's Popular Ivorian Front (FPI), he has previously said he will not share power with the outgoing leader whose rejection of the AU decision saw violence escalate in the country.
"It is imperative that we learn how to live together again," Ouattara said, stressing his desire to be "a president of all Ivorians" in a country where political turmoil has been underlined by religious and ethnic differences.
Ouattara has been running his government from the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where he has been holed up since the end of 2010 protected by peacekeepers and his supporters, barricaded by pro-Gbagbo troops.
Gbagbo was also expected to address the nation soon, state television reported.
A few hours before Ouattara's speech four people were gunned down in a chic suburb of Abidjan.
Witnesses reported a group of armed men arriving by taxi at a roadblock in the residential suburb of Cocody and opening fire, leaving four dead.
One person said the attackers were "rebels," a term used by Gbagbo's camp to describe fighters loyal to Ouattara.
"I saw three people get out of a taxi, machine gun in hand, they started firing at passers-by, it was horrible," said one resident, adding that the attackers fled in the same taxi.
But another witness said "four youths lying" on the ground were Gbagbo supporters.
Several days of heavy fighting have raged as pro-Gbagbo troops try to fend of a push by Ouattara fighters, known as "invisible commandos", south into the downtown district where the presidential palace is located.
The insurgents are moving from northern stronghold Abobo, a populous suburb of 1.5 million people where much of the violence has been concentrated.
On Tuesday pro-Gbagbo forces were in control of a strategic military barracks in the northern suburb of Adjame which was attacked by their rivals the day before, blocking the route to Plateau, in the centre of Abidjan.
Gbagbo troops used heavy weapons and reinforcements from a nearby camp of paramilitary gendarmes, the country's biggest, to beat back the assailants.
The restive suburbs are largely impenetrable due to security concerns, making it impossible to establish the number of casualties.
Fighters are reportedly making use of Kalashnikovs, 81 and 82mm mortars, RPG7 rockets and machine guns.
Terrified residents fled their homes on Tuesday, carrying bundles on their heads and bags in their arms, a journalist reported.
In his speech, Ouattara also addressed the military who mostly remain faithful to the outgoing president.
"It is not too late to make yourself available to the homeland."
He said a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be set up "promptly" by his government, to compensate victims of violence.
First Published: Wednesday, March 16, 2011, 12:32