France urges Gbagbo quit power in Ivory Coast 'immediately'
France urged Ivory Coast's besieged strongman Laurent Gbagbo to quit power "immediately" on Friday and urged rival forces battling in the country to keep civilians safe.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy made the call as forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, internationally recognised as Ivory Coast's rightful leader, battled guards still loyal to Gbagbo in the main city Abidjan.
"France calls on Laurent Gbagbo, according to UN Security Council resolution 1975, to withdraw immediately, to cease from violence and give up power peacefully to President Alassane Ouattara," Sarkozy said in a statement.
"France calls on all the forces present to respect the safety of the civilian population, Ivorian and foreign. Those responsible for abuses will not escape criminal responsibility."
UN-certified results showed Ouattara as the winner of November's presidential election but Gbagbo rejected the results and clung to power. Months of bloodshed and stagnation ensued.
"Respect for the result, namely the victory of Alassane Ouattara, is vital for peace and national reconciliation in Ivory Coast, but also for the future of democracy in Africa," Sarkozy said.
His call, after a meeting with his top ministers and military brass, came as Gbagbo appeared increasingly hard-pressed, hunkering in his residence in the main city Abidjan as pro-Ouattara forces battled to drive him out.
"France is seriously worried by the economic, social and humanitarian situation in the country, brought low by four months of violence orchestrated by the followers of Laurent Gbagbo," Sarkozy added.
"The moment has come for the whole Ivorian nation to rally around the president it elected and turn at last a new page of peace."
© 2011 AFP