Ivory Coast: Laurent Gbagbo 'to surrender within hours'

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Media captionA British man in Ivory Coast describes being trapped in his home

Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, besieged in his presidential compound in Abidjan, is still negotiating his departure with the UN and could surrender "within hours", France says.

However the French armed forces chief said military strikes against Mr Gbagbo could resume if he refused to go.

Mr Gbagbo is encircled by troops loyal to the recognised winner of November's disputed election, Alassane Ouattara.

Mr Gbagbo has denied he is surrendering saying he is only negotiating a truce.

French Armed forces chief Adm Edouard Guillaud told Europe 1 radio that Mr Gbagbo had twice been on the point of stepping down - on 1 April and 4 April - before pulling back.

He said negotiations with the UN had continued through the night without result.

"Unfortunately I can't see a way out for the time being, I think it's a matter of hours... in the course of the day," he said.

"He is locked in the [presidential] residence and it remains in the possession of his supporters."

Asked if Mr Gbagbo had any choice other than surrender, he said: "No, to my mind he has no other choice."

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Wednesday it was "absurd" that Mr Gbagbo continued to refuse to step down.

"This stubbornness is absurd, Gbagbo has no prospects left now, everybody has dropped him," Mr Juppe told France Info radio.

He said France had asked the UN to guarantee Mr Gbagbo's safety and that of his family and "to organise the conditions of his departure, that's the only thing that remains to be negotiated now".

Mr Gbagbo earlier told French news channel LCI by telephone that his army was "currently discussing the conditions of a ceasefire with the other forces on the ground", but "on the political level no decision has yet been taken".

"I won the election and I'm not negotiating my departure," he said.

"I find it absolutely incredible that the entire world is playing this... game of poker."

His remarks contrasted with a statement from his spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, who told Reuters news agency there were "direct negotiations based on African Union recommendations which said Alassane Ouattara is president".

Mr Gbagbo accused France, the former colonial power, of making war on his country, saying: "I don't understand how an electoral dispute in Ivory Coast has brought about the direct intervention of the French army."

Mr Gbagbo, who sounded tired but resolute, said he was not preparing to die.

"I'm not a kamikaze," he said. "I love life. My voice is not the voice of a martyr, no, no, no. I'm not looking for death. It's not my aim to die."

City in fear

Abidjan - Ivory Coast's main city - has suffered days of heavy fighting in which UN and French helicopters attacked Mr Gbagbo's military.

Witnesses said the city had passed a largely quiet night, apart from shootings blamed on gangs, but its population of four million remained indoors.

Civilians told the BBC they were very scared. Small groups have been walking out of the city with their hands raised in the air.

Last November's election was intended to reunite Ivory Coast which split in two following a northern rebellion in 2002.

The electoral commission pronounced Mr Ouattara the victor, but Ivory Coast's Constitutional Council said Mr Gbagbo had won.

The US, the UN and the EU recognised Mr Ouattara as the winner, but both candidates had themselves sworn in as president and a stand-off ensued.

Skirmishes and battles between the rival forces have since taken place across Ivory Coast culminating in Mr Ouattara's troops sweeping into Abidjan at the end of March.

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