Fighting Moves Into Major Ivory Coast City

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Rebels seeking the overthrow of Ivory Coast's incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo pressed their battle on the main city, Abidjan. The nation's top army commander fled his post. And Ivory Coast's colonial power, France, deployed forces in Abidjan.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

In Ivory Coast today, fighting moved into the main city of Abidjan as opposition forces continued their advance on the disputed incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo. This follows their lightning sweep through the nation's heartland.

The bloody conflict erupted four months ago after Gbagbo refused to accept results of a presidential election the U.N. said he lost. Hundreds have died, and more than a million have been uprooted.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Ivory Coast disputed president, Laurent Gbagbo, is grappling with both the defection of his army chief and the latest fighting on his doorstep in Abidjan. The clashes are between his security forces and troops backing Alassane Ouattara, the U.N.-certified president-elect.

Heavy weapons fire rang out downtown today, says Canadian journalist Marco Chown Oved.

Mr. MARCO CHOWN OVED (Journalist): Were only steps from the presidential palace here. And there has been automatic gunfire, the booms of mortars that have been ringing out in the last few hours. We have tanks run by the Republican Guard, which is the most hardcore forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo.

QUIST-ARCTON: The U.S., the French and U.N. chief have intensified their calls for Gbagbo to step down. Ban Ki-moon urged Gbagbo immediately to relinquish power to Ouattara, who has been confined to a lagoonside hotel since the disputed presidential vote, protected by U.N. peacekeepers and blockaded by Gbagbo loyalists. Ouattara spoke today.

President-elect ALASSANE OUATTARA (Ivory Coast): (Speaking foreign language).

QUIST-ARCTON: Ouattara urged Gbagbos military to join his forces. Ouattaras prime minister, Guillaume Soro, predicted Gbagbo couldn't hold on much longer.

The U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Johnny Carson, said Gbagbo was weakening.

Mr. JOHNNY CARSON (Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs): There is a clear indication that the military forces of Gbagbo have, in fact, started to disintegrate. We hope that he will seize this opportunity to step aside peacefully, but that opportunity is slipping away.

QUIST-ARCTON: Carson, the U.N., the International Criminal Court and others warn if there is more violence, Gbagbo and his aides will be held accountable.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Accra.

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