Ivory Coast leader hides in bunker, vows not to surrender

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — An armed group trying to install Ivory Coast’s internationally recognized president has surrounded a bunker the country’s strongman refuses to leave, saying they will wait for him to come out.

Entrenched incumbent Laurent Gbagbo remained defiant on Thursday, even after airstrikes hammered his military bases and his residence, where he is holed up with his wife inside a subterranean tunnel. Via a spokesman in Europe, the ruler continued to insist he’d won last November’s election and stressed he would never leave the country he has ruled for the past 10 years.

“I reached the head of state and his wife less than an hour ago and no — he will not surrender. President Gbagbo will not cede,” said his adviser Toussaint Alain by telephone from Paris. “It’s a question of principle. President Gbagbo is not a monarch. He is not a king. He is not an emperor. He is a president elected by his people.”

Gbagbo has refused to accept defeat even though he was declared the loser of the November election both by his country’s electoral body and by international observers including the United Nations. After four months of diplomacy, his opponent Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognized as having won the poll, gave the go-ahead for a military intervention led by fighters from a former rebel group.

An armed group backing Ouattara stormed the gates of Gbagbo’s home on Wednesday, but stopped short of killing the entrenched leader.

, a move that could stoke the rage of his supporters. Some 46 percent of Ivorians voted for Gbagbo in the November election that unleashed political chaos.

“This will be over very soon,” Ouattara’s envoy to the U.N. Youssoufou Bamba said in New York.

He said when Gbagbo is taken “he will be alive and well. He wants to be a martyr. We won’t allow (his death) to happen.”

Amid the fighting late Wednesday, French troops rescued the Japanese ambassador and seven others after fighters attacked them. In a video provided by the French military, the forces are seen rappelling from a helicopter with night-vision goggles.

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