Gbagbo has been living in a bunker in his residence in Abidjan for nearly a week. After a decade in power, he still refuses to step aside even though the United Nations has ruled that he lost the November presidential election to Alassane Ouattara.
Forces loyal to Gbagbo were encircled at the presidential residence earlier this week but broke out on Saturday, ambushing a patrol of soldiers loyal to his rival, Ouattara, and advancing into the downtown core.
Pro-Gbagbo forces also attacked U.N. headquarters on Saturday and again on Sunday, according to the U.N.
“This is in retaliation to a series of attacks for the last three or four days not only against (the U.N.) but also against the civilian population — often with heavy weapons,” said U.N. spokesman Hamadoun Toure.
Toure said that the airstrikes targeted the Presidential Palace and Gbagbo’s residence, as well as military bases where heavy weapons had been identified.
Only minutes before the helicopters took off, local U.N. peacekeeping mission head Choi Young-jin announced that the U.N. would be attacking in an interview on the BBC.
Gbagbo has lost control of virtually the entire country in the last two weeks as forces loyal to Ouattara have swept down from the north and west into the commercial capital. U.N. and French forces joined the efforts this week.
Gbagbo and his top military men were negotiating a surrender Tuesday that had raised expectations the four-month political standoff was nearing an end. But he continued to assert he would not give up power and he was the legitimate president of Ivory Coast despite a first round of U.N. and French airstrikes that destroyed much of his arsenal of tanks, mortars and other heavy weapons.
“I am concluding that Mr Gbagbo has lost contact with reality,” Choi said.
The United Nations said that the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara is based came under attack late Saturday and one peacekeeper was injured. U.N. spokesman Hamadoun Toure said that rockets and mortars landed on the hotel grounds shortly after U.N. forces came under attack nearby on Saturday evening. One peacekeeper was evacuated to hospital with serious injuries, he said.
Massere Toure, a communications adviser for Ouattara, denied that the hotel itself was targeted by the attack, which she said started when a patrol sent out from the hotel was ambushed by forces loyal to former president Gbagbo. Toure confirmed that stray bullets and at least one mortar landed on hotel grounds during the fighting.
Ouattara’s forces repeatedly said they do not want to kill Gbagbo, a move that would stoke the rage of his supporters. Some 46 percent of Ivorians voted for Gbagbo. Agencies