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The World

April 5, 2011

Final battle rages in Ivory Coast, forces prepare

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo is negotiating his surrender, a diplomat said Tuesday after United Nations and French forces bombarded military sites, backing Ivorian fighters who are trying to install the elected president.

The offensive by U.N. and French forces 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. He was declared the loser of elections in November but refused to cede power to winner Alassane Ouattara even as the world's largest cocoa producer teetered on the brink of all-out civil war.

Ivorian fighters loyal to Ouattara had succeeded in taking nearly the entire countryside in just three days last week, but they faltered once they reached Abidjan, country's largest city where the presidential palace and residence are located.

With the help of international forces, the fighters have pushed their way to the heart of the city to reach Gbagbo's home. Fighting continued Tuesday morning.

Ouattara's ambassador to France said Gbagbo is negotiating his surrender.

Ali Coulibaly did not provide any details in the interview Tuesday with France Info radio or say where he got the information.

"I'm not trying to be demagogical or to add to the disinformation, but according to the information that I have, he's negotiating his surrender because he has realized the end is near. The game is up," Coulibaly said.

A senior diplomat who could not be named because of the sensitivity of the matter said he has a map with blue stickers marking the six strategic points that needed to be taken out, and that five of the six had been hit by early Tuesday.

The five include Gbagbo's residence where heavy weaponry was destroyed, the republican guard, state TV, the Akban paramilitary base, and the arms depot at Akouedo which the diplomat said were bombarded by U.N. Mi-24 helicopters. A video posted on YouTube showed the depot being bombed, with spectacular secondary explosions occurring and possible outgoing fire seeking out the raiding aircraft.

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