- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast | Surrounded by troops backing Ivory Coast’s democratically elected leader, strongman Laurent Gbagbo huddled in a bunker at his home with his family Tuesday and tried to negotiate terms of surrender, officials said.

France’s foreign minister said officials were demanding that Mr. Gbagbo renounce power in writing and formally recognize his rival Alassane Ouattara, the internationally backed winner of the November election that plunged the West African nation into chaos.

Forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara on Tuesday seized the presidential residence where Mr. Gbagbo tried to wrest last-ditch concessions, said a senior diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Mr. Ouattara has urged his supporters to take Mr. Gbagbo alive.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told a parliamentary commission that military chiefs in the former French colony have given orders for a cease-fire.

U.N. and French forces opened fire with attack helicopters on Mr. Gbagbo’s arms stockpiles and bases on Monday after four months of political deadlock in the former French colony in West Africa.

Columns of foot soldiers allied with Mr. Ouattara also finally pierced the city limits of Abidjan.

“One might think that we are getting to the end of the crisis,” Hamadoun Toure, spokesman for the U.N. mission to Ivory Coast said by phone. “We spoke to his close aides, some had already defected, some are ready to stop fighting. He is alone now, he is in his bunker with a handful of supporters and family members. So is he going to last or not? I don’t know.”

Mr. Toure said that the U.N. had received phone calls Tuesday from the three main Gbagbo-allied generals, saying they were planning to order their troops to stop fighting.

“They asked us to accept arms and ammunition from the troops and to provide them protection,” he said.

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet also told a Paris news conference Tuesday that he hoped the situation would be resolved within hours.

The 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 Mr. Gbagbo, as pro-Ouattara fighters pushed their way to the heart of the city to reach Mr. Gbagbo’s home.

President Obama said Tuesday welcomed the role of the U.N. and French forces in Ivory Coast, also known by its French name Cote d’Ivoire.

“To end this violence and prevent more bloodshed, former President Gbagbo must stand down immediately, and direct those who are fighting on his behalf to lay down their arms,” Mr. Obama said. “Every day that the fighting persists will bring more suffering, and further delay the future of peace and prosperity that the people of Cote d’Ivoire deserve.”

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