Gbagbo may quit in hours, must go: France

PARIS (Reuters) – The only thing left to discuss with Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo is his departure and it is “absurd” for him to hang on, former colonial power France said on Wednesday.

“This obstinacy is absurd. Gbagbo has no future henceforth. Everybody’s dropped him. He’s holed up in his residence,” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

“With the United Nations, which is at the helm, we are going to continue to exert pressure on him to face up to reality,” Juppe said in an interview with France Info radio.

French armed forces chief Admiral Edouard Guillaud said negotiations with Gbagbo “continued through the night but unfortunately I see no breakthrough for now.”

“Despite that, I believe it is a matter of hours, possibly during the day,” he told Europe 1 radio.

Gbagbo, who has refused to cede power since a U.N.-certified election in November showed he lost to rival Alassane Ouattara, told a French TV channel in a telephone interview aired on Tuesday evening that his army had called for a ceasefire after their weaponry was destroyed by the French and U.N airstrikes.

France’s intervention in its former colony has infuriated Gbagbo’s camp, which already blames Paris for supporting the north of the country in a 2002-03 civil war, and it comes at a tense time for French diplomacy after President Nicolas Sarkozy’s spearheading of the West’s military response to the crisis in Libya.

Gbagbo has defied international pressure to give up the presidency of the cocoa growing country after an election in November that U.N.-certified results showed Ouattara won. At least 1,500 people have died in the standoff.

Guillaud said strikes against Gbagbo’s camp could resume at the request of the United Nations and if he continued to refuse to step down.

He too said Gbagbo was still in his presidential residence and had nearly agreed to surrender twice in the past few days before backtracking at the insistence of people close to him.

“He is shut inside the president’s residence and his allies only hold the grounds around the presidential residence,” he said.

In the event of a surrender, the most likely option for Gbagbo would be to go into exile, he added.

France’s 1,650-strong Licorne, or “Unicorn,” force in Ivory Coast fired on armored vehicles and heavy weapons depots last Monday, destroying rocket-propelled grenade launchers and television transmitters with missiles.

There were no strikes by the Licorne force on Tuesday.

France, which has roughly 12,000 nationals in Ivory Coast, is not carrying out mandatory evacuations but has advised its nationals to group together and is helping any that want to leave. About 2,000 foreigners, including several hundred Lebanese, have gathered at the Licorne base and a nearby sports center in Abidjan and French military planes used to bring in troops this week have flown 450 of them to Dakar in Senegal or Lome in Togo.

(Reporting by Brian Love and Nick Vinocur; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Gbagbo may quit in hours, must go: France