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AU: Gbagbo Ready to Step Down


Civilians head out in search of water as heavy fighting subsides in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan, April 5, 2011

Civilians head out in search of water as heavy fighting subsides in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan, April 5, 2011

The African Union says Ivory Coast incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo is willing to step down as fighters backing the country's internationally recognized leader are making what they say is a final push on the commercial capital.

African Union officials say Gbagbo told Mauritainian President Mohamed Ould Abdulaziz that he is now ready to step down and accept Alassane Ouattara as Ivory Coast president.

French officials and Ouattara aides say Gbagbo is now negotiating the terms of his surrender.

The Economic Community of West African States said it will ensure the safe and dignified exit of Gbagbo who is now thought to be hiding out in an underground bunker.

Fighters backing Ouattara are battling Gbagbo troops for a sixth day in Abidjan following overnight attacks by U.N. and French troops against Gbagbo heavy artillery.

U.N. and French helicopters fired on Gbagbo's main military barracks and his residence after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked President Nicolas Sarkozy for help in silencing mortars and rocket launchers that have been used against civilians and U.N. headquarters in Abidjan.

Gbagbo supporters say the U.N. and French intervention amounts to an assassination attempt against Gbagbo. Ban says the operation is line with the mission's mandate to defend itself and protect civilians and does not mean U.N. troops are taking up arms against Gbagbo.

The fighting follows four months of failed negotiations to resolve Ivory Coast's political crisis.

Gbagbo says he was re-elected when the constitutional council annulled as fraudulent nearly ten percent of all ballots cast in November's run-off election. Ouattara's claim to the presidency is based on electoral commission results certified by the United Nations.

The West African regional alliance, the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States are all calling on Gbagbo to leave power immediately so Ouattara can take charge.

Nearly one million people have been displaced by this conflict. Civilians in Abidjan say they are running out of food and water.

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