7 Apr 2011

Ambassador snatched to safety in Abidjan

10:51 pm on 7 April 2011

French forces have snatched the Japanese ambassador to safety from near the besieged presidential residence in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan.

French helicopters exchanged fire with supporters of the besieged incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, the BBC reports.

Mr Gbagbo is said to be hiding in a bunker in the palace surrounded by forces loyal to his rival Alassane Outtara.

Mr Ouattara has been officially recognised as the winner of the presidential elections in November last year, however Mr Gbagbo has refused to cede power.

The Japanese ambassador, Okamura Yoshifumi, who lives near the palace was rescued under fire from French and United Nations forces.

The BBC reports that much of the fighting centred on the presidential compound of Mr Gbagbo, but there is still no indication that he is ready to surrender.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says Israel has now asked Paris to extract Israeli diplomats from Abidjan.

The battle for Abidjan has now lasted a week and as it drags on, millions of residents remain trapped by the violence and looting, with water and food increasingly scarce.