U.N., French forces hit sites in Ivory Coast

United Nations and French helicopters in Ivory Coast on Sunday attacked the home and presidential palace of the country's longtime leader, who has refused to step down since an election in November in which the U.N. says he was defeated.

The attacks on Laurent Gbagbo's residence and the presidential palace mark the United Nations' second military intervention, after similar assaults a week earlier.

The U.N. said Friday that forces loyal to Gbagbo used a cease-fire Tuesday as a ploy to consolidate and gain ground in Abidjan. After the cease-fire, Gbagbo's forces drove back soldiers loyal to his rival Alassane Ouattara in several areas of Abidjan, the commercial capital where the battle for power is playing out.

The attack Sunday, authorized by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, came after a request by Ouattara to neutralize Gbagbo's heavy weapons. In a statement released in Paris, lawyers said Ouattara's safety was in peril. They said pro-Gbagbo militants who control areas around the presidential residence and some other districts of Abidjan were an illegal occupying force and must be removed.

U.N. forces have a mandate from the Security Council to take any action necessary to protect civilians. The international forces carried out the attack after pro-Gbagbo militants fired at the lagoonside Golf Hotel, where Ouattara's government has been trapped by Gbagbo since December.

"We have resumed the operation aimed at neutralizing heavy weapons wherever they are found," U.N. spokesman Hamadou Toure said in Abidjan.

Since the election, Gbagbo has refused to step aside while Ouattara had himself sworn into office and appointed a Cabinet, gaining the recognition of the U.N. and international leaders.

After four months of halting negotiations, Ouattara's forces launched a national offensive to seize power.

Both sides have committed atrocities in the battle for control, according to Human Rights Watch, which recently detailed hundreds of rapes and killings in western Ivory Coast by forces loyal to Ouattara.

Ouattara has denied these and promised an investigation.

Gbagbo's spokesman, Ahoua Dan Mello, alleged the latest U.N. attacks were an attempt to assassinate Gbagbo.

After making swift gains across Ivory Coast a week ago, Ouattara's forces met with strong resistance from die-hard Gbago loyalists in Abidjan. On Tuesday, Gbagbo was reportedly surrounded in the presidential residence, but he said he would not cede power and his forces fought back, regaining control in some areas.

Ouattara's forces tried to breach the presidential palace Wednesday to remove him forcibly but were driven back.

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