SOME 500 foreigners sought refuge in a French military camp in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan amid fighting between incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his rival for the presidency, the French military said today.
Yesterday "some 150 French nationals and 350 other (non-Ivorian) foreigners were admitted to the camp in Port-Bouet" in the south of Abidjan, French military spokesman Thierry Burkhard told AFP in Paris.
"Some of them arrived by their own means and others were accompanied" by French forces who have been patrolling parts of the capital to protect French citizens since the forces of internationally-recognised president Alassane Ouattara advanced on Gbagbo's stronghold yesterday.
A French diplomatic source in Paris told AFP separately that many of those who flocked to the camp were Lebanese nationals.
In Abidjan, gunfire erupted around the home of Gbagbo and the presidential palace today.
"The shooting doesn't stop. Gbagbo's men are resisting in all their positions," a resident of the northern suburb of Cocody, where Gbagbo lives, said.
"We are hearing deafening artillery shots, RPG7 (rockets) and machine guns."
Intense fighting between soldiers loyal to the outgoing president and the army of Ouattara started last night within the perimeter of Gbagbo's residence.It was impossible to confirm if Gbagbo was still in his home.
Pro-Ouattara fighters entered Abidjan, the country's economic capital, yesterday after sweeping through towns across the country in an all-out offensive against Gbagbo's regime.
They seized the airport and the state television last night.Fighting continued today in the administrative district of Plateau, home to the presidential palace, where the roar of heavy artillery shelling pierced the air.
Incumbent Gbagbo, clinging onto the presidency despite losing elections in November to Ouattara, failed to respond to a deadline set by his rival to step down yesterday and now faces being ousted by force.
The bloody post-election dispute has plunged the world's top cocoa producer into political and economic crisis, with nearly 500 killed and up to a million having fled their homes as rival forces clash.