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Ivorian president agrees to step down

Ivory Coast’s President Laurent Gbagbo has agreed to step down from office and asked the United Nations for protection, a UN diplomat says.

The UN official told Reuters on Tuesday that Gbagbo is willing to quit during the negotiations provided that security conditions would be guaranteed for him, his family and supporters.

However, in a telephone interview with France’s LCI television at 1730 GMT on Tuesday, Gbagbo said that he “won the election and was not negotiating his departure.”

His remarks come as he, his family members and a small group of his supporters are holed up in the basement in his presidential residence, which is under siege by forces loyal to the country’s president-elect Alassane Ouattara.

Earlier, French and UN helicopters carried out attacks on Gbagbo’s military bases, paving the way for opposition forces to take control of Ivory Coast’s main city, Abidjan.

French Foreign Minister Allan Juppe has said that Gbagbo must cede power and formally recognize Ouattara as the president of the country.

While much of the international community has recognized Ouattara as the winner of the vote, Gbagbo refused to cede power. Tensions further escalated after they both claimed victory and appointed separate cabinets.

Meanwhile, the political standoff has led to a humanitarian crisis in Ivory Coast with many of the people fleeing chaos in Abidjan, which is the most populated and economically important city in the country.

Hundreds of people have lost their lives since the violence erupted over the controversial presidential election in November 2010.

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