Ivorian leader denies move to surrender

Gbagbo says face-to-face talks with president-elect Ouattara is the only way to return the country to peace.

    Gbagbo declared in an interview with French television that Ouattara "did not win the elections" [Al Jazeera] 

    Laurent Gbagbo, Cote d'Ivoire's incumbent president, says the Ivorian army has called for a ceasefire but denies reports that he is ready to surrender following heavy fighting for control of Abidjan between soldiers loyal to him and fighters supporting Alassane Ouattara, the president-elect.

    In a telephone interview on Tuesday with France's LCI television, Gbagbo reiterated that he considered himself the winner of last November's elections.

    Gbagbo said the discussion over who won last year's elections continued and he said face-to-face talks with Ouattara, internationally recognised as the winner of last year's presidential vote, was the only way to return the country to peace.

    "The army has called for the suspension of hostilities ... and it is currently discussing the conditions of a ceasefire with the other forces on the ground, but on a political level no decision has yet been taken," Gbagbo said.

    A UN official, whom the Reuters news agency did not name, said that Gbagbo was not physically in UN custody but was "still negotiating" and had "expressed a willingness to surrender".

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    Gbagbo is in a bunker inside the presidential residence with his family, officials said.

    Reports said troops backing Ouattara have encircled the residence.

    Gbagbo's latest comments came as French officials and a diplomat said he was negotiating his departure terms after French and UN forces launched a military offensive on Monday.

    The French channel said the interview was conducted by phone from his residence at 1730 GMT, and lasted about 20 minutes.

    Ahoua Don Mello, a government spokesman for Gbagbo, said they were also negotiating judicial and security conditions for Gbagbo's camp and his relatives, adding that they are talking to the French government which is relaying the talks to the Ouattara camp.

    Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, said negotiators are close to convincing Gbagbo to leave.

    YJ Choi, UN special representative for Cote d'Ivoire told Al Jazeera: 'the war is over'

    "If there are possibilities to see him leave power then we are ready," he said.

    Meanwhile, YJ Choi, the special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for Cote d'Ivoire told Al Jazeera "the war is over".

    "All the generals who are fighting for Gbagbo have deserted him, it is over. There is no army, there is no flighting," he said.

    Soldiers loyal to Gbagbo have asked for a ceasefire in the face of the offensive launched by Ouattara's forces last week.

    General Philippe Mangou told AFP news agency on Tuesday that his troops had stopped fighting and requested a ceasefire after UN and French troops backed Ouattara's forces.

    Gbagbo's options limited

    There were conflicting reports about Gbagbo's moves throughout the day.

    Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Bassam, just outside Abidjan, quoted a UN official as saying "we cannot confirm his surrender but we are ready to offer protection if requested.

    Our correspondent said Gbagbo's options are limited.

    "The fighting seems to have stopped for a while, which means perhaps something could be happening. No one knows where Gbagbo is but wherever he is, his options are clearly limited. The only option he could have is accept some kind of exit package, maybe going into exile."

    French president Nicolas Sarkozy spoke to Ouattara twice on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Cote d'Ivoire.

    Sarkozy said in a statement that he had authorised the French force to help in the operation following an appeal from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said the use of force was necessary to prevent further attacks on civilians.

    Forces loyal to Ouattara have cornered Gbagbo and his closest supporters in Abidjan  [Reuters]

    Following four months of attempts to negotiate Gbagbo's departure, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a 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."

    Adam Gaye, a west African analyst, told Al Jazeera that Ouattara's government will be tainted by the loss of life in the uprising against Gbagbo.

    Barack Obama, the US president, has renewed his call for Gbagbo to immediately leave power to help end violence.

    "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," Obama said in a statement on Tuesday.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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