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Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo Under Increasing Pressure to Step Down

April 5, 2011 at 6:50 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next tonight, the bloody stalemate in the West African nation of Ivory Coast, where diplomats are negotiating to persuade former President Laurent Gbagbo to leave the presidential palace.

Ray Suarez has the story.

RAY SUAREZ: The reports came as sporadic gunfire and eerie quiet haunted the mostly deserted streets of the city of Abidjan. Some residents tried to flee after fighting continued well into last night, with those loyal to democratically elected President Alassane Ouattara seizing the presidential residence where Gbagbo had been hiding.

Yesterday, United Nations and French helicopters went directly after Gbagbo, opening an air assault on two of his military bunkers in the city in an attempt to weaken his defenses. There are nearly 1,600 troops stationed in the former French colony also known as Cote d’Ivoire.

Early today, the French foreign minister said the French and U.N. forces had ordered a cease-fire and were also negotiating with Gbagbo to leave.

ALAIN JUPPE, French foreign minister (through translator): Today, as I am speaking, the fighting has stopped. What is going on now, it is negotiations with Laurent Gbagbo and his family to organize the conditions of his departure. These conditions are not decided yet. We demand — and I just had a conversation with the U.N. secretary general, who is, of course, on the exact same page — that he renounce power.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, President Obama said in a written statement he strongly supported the French and U.N. action: “To end this violence and prevent more bloodshed, former President Gbagbo must stand down immediately and direct those who are fighting on his behalf to lay down their arms. Every day that the fighting persists will bring more suffering and further delay the future of peace and prosperity that the people of Cote d’Ivoire deserve.”

Gbagbo hasn’t appeared in public in weeks. And many residents have ventured out only to collect food and water since last Wednesday, when Ouattara fighters began besieging the city, Gbagbo’s last major stronghold. He had refused to cede power to Ouattara since the November election, even as the world’s largest cocoa producer stood on the brink of an all-out civil war.