Ivorian leader Gbagbo close to leaving: French Foreign Min

French and UN forces have attacked the military bases controlled by Gbagbo.

Paris: Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says negotiators are close to convincing Ivory Coast`s embattled leader Laurent Gbagbo to leave office.

Juppe told French lawmakers on Tuesday that he believes Gbagbo`s departure is near.

Officials have said Gbagbo is holed up in a bunker at his home and exploring different options for his surrender after forces backing the country`s democratically elected leader, Alassane Ouattara, seized the residence.

United Nations and French forces opened fire with attack helicopters on Gbagbo`s arsenal Monday.

"We are in a situation where everything can, I hope, I think be resolved in a few hours time," French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said at a news conference Tuesday.

The international offensive that began Monday included air attacks on the presidential residence and three strategic military garrisons, marking an unprecedented escalation in the international community`s efforts to oust Gbagbo.

With the help of the international forces, pro-0uattara fighters pushed their way to the heart of the city to reach Gbagbo`s home.

Gbagbo was declared the loser of elections in November but refused to cede power to Ouattara even as the world`s largest cocoa producer teetered on the brink of all-out civil war.

"Gbagbo is exploring different options for turning himself in," Ouattara spokesman Patrick Achi said Tuesday. "He has been in touch with different leaders involved in this crisis."

A senior diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter also said that Gbagbo`s closest adviser and longtime friend had abandoned him, leaving the bunker to seek refuge inside the French ambassador`s home.

However, a Paris-based lawyer who has represented Gbagbo`s government said his foreign minister, Alcide Djedje, had gone to the French Embassy to protest Monday`s attacks by French and UN forces.

"He has absolutely not resigned and is currently being scandalously held against his will" in the embassy, attorney Lucie Bourthoumieux said in a statement.

Postelection violence has left hundreds dead in Ivory Coast — most of them Ouattara supporters — and has forced up to 1 million people to flee. Ouattara had used his considerable international clout to financially and diplomatically suffocate Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara forces before launching a dramatic military assault last week.

Ivory Coast gained independence from France in 1960, and some 20,000 French citizens still lived there when a brief civil war broke out in 2002. French troops were then tasked by the UN with monitoring a cease-fire and protecting foreign nationals in Ivory Coast, which was once an economic star and is still one of the only countries in the region with four-lane highways, skyscrapers, escalators and wine bars.

Following four months of attempts to negotiate Gbagbo`s departure, the UN Security Council unanimously passed an especially strong resolution giving the 12,000-strong peacekeeping operation the right "to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence ... including to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population."

Bureau Report


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