- Associated Press - Thursday, April 7, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Days into an offensive aimed at dislodging him from the presidential mansion, Ivory Coast’s strongman refused to budge Thursday from a bunker underneath his home, insisting he would never surrender despite the immense international pressure bearing down on him.

An adviser for Alassane Ouattara, the country’s democratically elected president, said their fighters had surrounded the property and planned to sit it out.

“We’re going to wait and let him come out like a rat,” said the adviser, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

An armed group backing Mr. Ouattara stormed the gates of incumbent strongman Laurent Gbagbo’s home on Wednesday but are fearful of killing the entrenched leader and stoking the rage of his supporters. Some 46 percent of Ivorians voted for Mr. Gbagbo in the November election that unleashed political chaos.

Mr. Gbagbo’s Europe-based adviser, Toussaint Alain, said by telephone that he had spoken to Mr. Gbagbo and to the ruler’s wife, Simone, at about 1 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT) 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,” Mr. Alain said. “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.”

Amid the fighting late 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.

Heavy-arms fire was heard across Abidjan overnight, but on Thursday hundreds of people ventured out despite the dangers in search of water as U.N. helicopters circled overhead.

Mr. Ouattara has pleaded with the international community for months to intervene and remove Mr. Gbagbo by force, arguing he wouldn’t leave any other way.

Despite losing the election, Mr. Gbagbo still controls the Ivorian army and repeatedly has used its arsenal of heavy artillery to attack areas of Abidjan where people voted for his opponent. Security forces are accused of opening fire with a mounted machine gun on a group of unarmed women and lobbing mortars into a market.

Finally on Monday, U.N. attack helicopters acting on a U.N. Security Council resolution bombarded six arms depots in Abidjan — including a cache inside the presidential compound.

“Obviously, they didn’t get all of it,” said a senior diplomat who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “When they came after him, he pulled out more stuff. Remember, he had a long time to prepare for this.”

Among the preparations was the choice of where Mr. Gbagbo would make his last stand. He 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, said Meite Sindou, a defense spokesman for Mr. Ouattara.

Ivory Coast’s first president, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, built the tunnel so he could take refuge inside the ambassador’s residence in the event of a coup, said Ivory Coast expert Christian Bouquet, a professor of political geography at the University of Bordeaux III.

Story Continues →