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Ivory Coast Braces for Violent Showdown

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Residents in Ivory Coast's commercial capital remained inside their homes Monday, as forces loyal to the country's internationally recognized president prepared for a final push to oust its incumbent leader.

Forces backing President Alassane Ouattara have overtaken much of the country in the past week, and now seem set to try and force incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo from the presidential palace in Abidjan. Ouattara was declared the winner of the November election, but Gbagbo refuses to give up power.

French forces have taken over the airport in Abidjan, using it to evacuate foreign nationals and to bring in another 300 troops to reinforce U.N. peacekeeping forces.

Some troops previously loyal to Gbagbo have surrendered to the United Nations and some have been reported crossing into Ghana.

The international community is calling on both sides to avoid attacking civilians.

The U.N. mission in Ivory Coast began moving some of its staff out of Abidjan on Sunday after attacks on its headquarters.

Officials said Monday Gbagbo's army chief of staff, General Phillippe Mangou, has left the home of the South African ambassador after seeking refuge there with his family last week. It was not clear if he had resumed his position.

In a statement Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Gbagbo to cede power immediately. She also called on pro-Ouattara forces to respect the rule of law and live up to the ideal and vision articulated by their leader. Clinton also asked the U.N. peacekeeping mission to enforce its mandate to protect civilians.

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara forces are accused of killing civilians in recent days. The International Federation of the Red Cross says at least 800 people were killed in the western city of Duekoue, which pro-Ouattara fighters seized last week.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke with Ouattara by phone Saturday, and expressed concern about the reports that pro-Ouattara forces were responsible for civilian deaths.

Ouattara denied his forces were involved and said he has launched an investigation.

The United Nations says up to one million people have fled their homes since the first bout of post-election violence in December. More than 100,000 have fled to neighboring Liberia, with smaller numbers going to Ghana.

Article by VOA News