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Ivorian strongman's home under rocket fire

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- United Nations and French helicopters fired rockets on strongman Laurent Gbagbo's residence yesterday in an assault the UN said was retaliation for attacks by his forces on UN headquarters and civilians.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had authorized the strikes, accusing Gbagbo of using heavy weapons against civilians and the UN forces trying to protect them.

Residents from nearby neighborhoods reported seeing two UN Mi-24 attack helicopters and a French helicopter open fire on the residence, where Gbagbo is holed up in a bunker. An Associated Press reporter saw the helicopters take off from the French military base, followed minutes later by explosions coming from the direction of the residence. Successive waves of French helicopters later left the base and additional bombardments could be heard.

Gbagbo has been living in a bunker for nearly a week. After a decade in power, he 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 but broke out on Saturday, ambushing a patrol of soldiers loyal to his rival and advancing downtown.

Pro-Gbagbo forces also attacked UN headquarters on Saturday and again yesterday.

In New York, a statement issued by Ban Ki-moon accused Gbagbo and supporters of saying they were willing to negotiate an end to the crisis but that "they, in fact, used that time to regroup their forces and redeploy heavy weapons." Since then, Ban said, Gbagbo's forces have attacked UN peacekeepers, civilians and the Golf Hotel where Ouattara is holed up.

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.

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