Ivory Coast: Embattled Gbagbo denies he seeks surrender

Fighter loyal to Alassane Ouattara guards a checkpoint at one of the main entrances to Abidjan, 5 April Fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara swept into Abidjan this week

Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo has denied reports he is surrendering after troops loyal to his rival surrounded his residence in Abidjan.

Speaking by phone from his bunker, he said his military were only negotiating a truce and insisted he had won November's presidential election.

Troops loyal to the internationally recognised winner, Alassane Ouattara, swept into Abidjan this week.

The city passed a largely quiet night, apart from shootings blamed on gangs.

But its population of four million remained indoors after days of heavy fighting which saw UN and French helicopters attacking Mr Gbagbo's military.

Hitler comparison

Western powers have stepped up pressure on Mr Gbagbo to resign, with US President Barack Obama saying the violence could have been averted if Mr Gbagbo had respected the election result.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Wednesday that Mr Gbagbo's departure was "the only thing left to negotiate".

"This stubbornness is absurd, Gbagbo has no prospects left now, everybody has dropped him," he told France Info radio.

The head of France's armed forces, Admiral Edouard Guillaud, said negotiations between Mr Gbagbo and the UN had continued through the night "but unfortunately I see no breakthrough for now".

"Despite that, I believe it is a matter of hours, possibly during the day," he told Europe 1 radio.

"He is locked in the [presidential] residence and it remains in the possession of his supporters."

Adm Guillaud said military strikes could resume at the request of the UN and if Mr Gbagbo continued to refuse to step down.

Start Quote

Laurent Gbagbo (archive image)

My voice is not the voice of a martyr, no, no, no, I'm not looking for death”

End Quote Laurent Gbagbo Incumbent president

Mr Gbagbo told French news channel LCI that his army was "currently discussing the conditions of a ceasefire with the other forces on the ground", but "on the political level no decision has yet been taken".

"I won the election and I'm not negotiating my departure," he said.

"I find it absolutely incredible that the entire world is playing this... game of poker."

His remarks contrasted with a statement from his spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, who told Reuters news agency there were "direct negotiations based on African Union recommendations which said Alassane Ouattara is president".

Mr Gbagbo accused France, the former colonial power, of making war on his country, saying: "I don't understand how an electoral dispute in Ivory Coast has brought about the direct intervention of the French army."

Ivorian turmoil

  • 28 November: Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and challenger Alassane Ouattara compete in election run-off
  • 2 December: Electoral commission announces that Mr Ouattara has won
  • 3 December: Constitutional Council overturns results, declaring Mr Gbagbo the winner; UN recognises Mr Ouattara as the victor
  • 2 February: European Union extends sanctions against Mr Gbagbo
  • 30 March: Pro-Ouattara forces enter the capital, Yamoussoukro, as fighting intensifies
  • 4 April: UN launches air strikes on Mr Gbagbo in the main city, Abidjan
  • 5 April: Three generals negotiate Mr Gbagbo's surrender

Mr Gbagbo, who sounded tired but resolute, said he was not preparing to die.

"I'm not a kamikaze," he said.

"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."

The UN mission says Mr Gbagbo's closest advisers have deserted him and he is in the basement bunker of the presidential residence "with a handful of persons".

Scared city

Piling the psychological pressure on the discredited leader and his allies, the pro-Ouattara television station TCI played extracts from Downfall, the feature film about the final days of Adolf Hitler in his bunker in Berlin.

UN mission spokesman Hamadoun Toure said fighting had stopped in the city but there was "sporadic shooting by groups of youths" not allied to the two rival leaders.

Civilians told the BBC they were very scared. Small groups have been walking out of the city with their hands raised in the air.

As night fell on Tuesday, a resident in the Cocody area described how the day had looked and sounded like to him: "We don't speak to the neighbours, we close the house.

"We don't know what is going on outside. I'm with my brother and little children. I'm playing a board game with my brother and my cousin because that is all we have to do.

"We have to be careful with food because we don't know how long it is going to last. The water is cut off so we don't have enough water, we try to reserve it but I don't know how long it is going to last. We really don't know."

Map

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