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Ivory Coast crisis appears hours from end as troops enter Gbagbo's palace

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Rebecca Blackwell/AP

(Read caption) Soldiers loyal to Alassane Ouattara point to men they claim to recognize among several dozen prisoners captured during fighting and patrols in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Wednesday, April 6. Heavy arms fire rang out Wednesday near the home of the country's strongman who remained holed up in a subterranean bunker, as forces backing his rival assaulted the residence to try to force him out, diplomats and witnesses said.

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Forces loyal to Ivory Coast President-elect Alassane Ouattara entered the presidential palace Wednesday to capture former President Laurent Gbagbo, who still refuses to surrender despite being trapped in a basement bunker.

Spokesmen for Mr. Ouattara say troops are under orders to take Mr. Gbagbo alive, while Gbagbo himself told French television by telephone that he was ready to die, if it came to that.

Once West Africa’s most prosperous functioning democracy, the Ivory Coast has devolved into all-out civil war with hundreds and possibly thousands of casualties since Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the Nov. 28 presidential election.

"I do not recognize the victory of Ouattara," Gbagbo told the French news channel LCI on Tuesday, adding: "I find it absolutely astounding that the life of a country is being played like a poker game in foreign capitals."

But while French troops have seized control of the city's airport, destroyed weapons depots, and attacked key positions of troops loyal to Gbagbo, it is Ivorians themselves now attempting to wedge Gbagbo from his bunker in the presidential palace.

Outside, troops of the pro-Ouattara Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI) have reportedly stormed the gates of the complex and may be within hours of capturing Gbagbo.

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