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Ivorian leader surrounded in bunker

Opponents plan to wait him out

Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognized as winning November’s presidential election, have surrounded the bunker of entrenched incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognized as winning November’s presidential election, have surrounded the bunker of entrenched incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. (Emmanuel Braun/ Reuters)
By Rukmini Callimachi and Marco Chown Oved
Associated Press / April 8, 2011

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ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — An armed group trying to install Ivory Coast’s internationally recognized president has surrounded a bunker that the country’s strongman refuses to leave, saying they will wait for him to come out.

Entrenched incumbent Laurent Gbagbo remained defiant yesterday, even after airstrikes hammered his military bases and his residence, where he is holed up with his wife inside a subterranean tunnel. The ruler, through a spokesman in Europe, continued to insist he had won last November’s election and stressed he would never leave the country he has ruled for the past 10 years.

“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,’’ Toussaint Alain, his adviser, said by phone from Paris. “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.’’

Gbagbo has refused to accept defeat even though he was declared the loser of the November election both by his country’s electoral body and by international observers, including the United Nations.

After four months of diplomacy, his opponent Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognized as having won the poll, gave the go-ahead for a military intervention led by fighters from a former rebel group.

An armed group backing Ouattara stormed the gates of Gbagbo’s home on Wednesday. The group has stopped short of killing the Gbagbo, a move that could stoke the rage of his supporters. Some 46 percent of Ivorians voted for Gbagbo in the November election that unleashed political chaos.

“This will be over very soon,’’ Youssoufou Bamba, Ouattara’s UN envoy said in New York.

He said when Gbagbo is taken “he will be alive and well. He wants to be a martyr. We won’t allow [his death] to happen.’’

Bamba also vehemently denied that his government was employing mercenaries from other countries in the fight.

Also in New York, Valerie Amos, UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said she was extremely concerned about the situation in Abidjan, which has led hundreds of thousands of residents to flee their homes in the commercial capital.

“People who have remained are trapped in their homes by the fighting that has raged on around them for over a week,’’ she said in a statement.

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