Ivory Coast presidential palace ‘taken’
Forces loyal to Ivory Coast’s UN-recognised president say they have captured the besieged incumbent’s residence in the main city of Abidjan.
Alassane Ouattara’s government said its troops had overrun the home of Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down, and were scouring the compound for him.
Heavy weapons fire rocked the city early on Tuesday.
Hours earlier, UN and French helicopters attacked targets near the presidential residence.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the raids were to defend civilians, not a declaration of war on Mr Gbagbo.
The BBC’s Andrew Harding, near Abidjan, says it looks like endgame for the incumbent president.
Mr Gbagbo has refused to leave office despite UN-approved results saying he lost presidential elections in November.
Forces loyal to Mr Ouattara began a dramatic military offensive last week, sweeping in from the north and west.
Millions of civilians have been trapped by days of fighting in Abidjan.
There is no independent confirmation of reports that pro-Ouattara forces have taken Mr Gbagbo’s compound.
“The residence is on many levels,” Patrick Achi, a spokesman for Mr Ouattara, told the BBC.
“People have seen that Gbagbo was in the residence but they are still looking for him.”
Asked what would happen if Mr Gbagbo was captured, he said he would be arrested and “brought to justice”.
One of Mr Gbagbo’s advisers in London, Abdon George Bayeto, dismissed claims the residence had fallen.
“This is all propaganda and it is all a war of psychology,” he said.
On Monday evening, UN and French helicopters attacked Mr Gbagbo’s arsenal, firing missiles at his heavy weapons and military camps.
Former colonial ruler France has had peacekeepers in Ivory Coast since its civil war almost a decade ago.
The UN secretary general said they launched air raids against pro-Gbagbo forces in retaliation for the alleged use of heavy weapons against civilians.
UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said the decision had been based on a strongly worded UN Security Council resolution authorising such action.
The use and calibre of heavy weapons by Gbagbo forces had, he said, escalated sharply in recent days.
The UN mission had also been under almost continuous attack, he said.
The French have beefed up their forces in the country to 1,650 soldiers in recent days as they prepared to evacuate foreign nationals.
Post-election violence in Ivory Coast has left hundreds dead and has forced up to one million people to flee.
The UN has sent an envoy to investigate a massacre of hundreds of civilians in the western town of Duekoue last week.
Each side has blamed the other for the killings which the International Committee of the Red Cross says claimed at least 800 lives.