Ouattara addresses Ivory Coast, as Gbagbo holds on

Ouattara addresses Ivory Coast, as Gbagbo holds on

The Ivory Coast has been plunged into a humanitarian crisis by Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to step down as president, his rival Alassane Ouattara said in a televised speech late Thursday, dpa reported.

Beleaguered Gbagbo remained holed up in a bunker surrounded by forces loyal to Ouattara as foreign ambassadors lined up for evacuation by French forces.

Gbagbo's military surrendered on Tuesday, but Outtara's forces have been unable to oust the president, who is being protected by the remnants of his armed forces at his residence in the economic capital Abidjan.

"The Ivory Coast's impasse was caused by the defiance of Laurent Gbagbo to step down after losing the November election, which has plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis," Ouattara said on broadcaster TCI.

He vowed to hold responsible those responsible for human rights violations during the conflict. "Investigations will be made to arrest the perpetrators of human rights violations and crimes on the national territory," he said. "They shall be judged."

Ouattara promised to quickly get the West African country back to normal, calling for the European Union and the West African Central Bank to lift sanctions on ports, banks and other businesses. He also asked for quick restoration of the electrical network and the water system that have been damaged.

"These immediate priority decisions aim to secure the population and target the gradual recovery of economic activities and return to normalcy," he said, calling on his compatriots for unity.

I promised you a great country. Now, all Ivorian nationals must stand up as one person, we must come together to build the country" he said.

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said Thursday Gbagbo was believed to have fewer than 1,000 men at his disposal, including around 200 at his residence.

UN-led talks have failed to convince Gbagbo to give up and acknowledge that Ouattara, seen as the rightful winner of disputed presidential elections in November, should be running the country.

An assault on the bunker failed Wednesday, and Ouattara's forces are laying siege to Gbagbo and his loyalists.

After French forces rescued the Japanese ambassador to Ivory Coast from his Abidjan residence overnight, France has been asked by several other countries, including Israel, to evacuate their diplomats, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

"I've just had the foreign minister of Israel on the phone asking the assistance of Unicorn (the name of the French peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast) to rescue its diplomats," he told a hearing of the Senate commissions of foreign affairs and defense.

Several embassies had put their hands up for help, including India's, he added.

The embassy quarter in Abidjan is caught up in what many expect to be the final showdown between the opposing forces. On Wednesday night, French helicopters intervened to rescue the Japanese ambassador after pro-Gbagbo militia stormed his residence and installed heavy weaponry on the roof.

The ambassador and several aides were evacuated to a French military base near the airport.

Serious military action by the rebel forces backing Ouattara only got going in recent weeks after mediation efforts and sanctions failed to budge Gbagbo.

The Republican Forces of Cote D'Ivoire (FRCI), comprised of northern rebels, New Forces and other armed groups, easily overran Yamoussoukro, the nation's political capital, and the city of San Pedro, the world's largest cocoa-exporting port.

More than 1,000 people, many of them civilians, are said to have been killed during the conflict, including almost 1,000 in a massacre suspected of being carried out by pro-Ouattara forces in a town in the west of Ivory Coast.

The November poll was supposed to consign to history the ghost of the civil war that broke out in 2002 and divided the country into the rebel, mainly Muslim north and Christian south.

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