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Battle mounts to remove incumbent Ivory Coast leader

Sporadic gunfire rang out in central Abidjan on Sunday. U.N. moves employees.

A photo provided by the French Defense Ministry shows French soldiers patrolling Saturday in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

AP PHOTO

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — The United Nations mission in Ivory Coast began moving some 200 employees out of the main city Sunday after repeated attacks on its headquarters, as fighters loyal to the internationally recognized president prepared for a battle to oust the incumbent leader.

Sporadic gunfire rang out in central Abidjan on Sunday, and residents for the most part stayed in their homes. Residents of the commercial capital have been restricted to their homes since forces supporting internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara began their assault of Abidjan on Thursday. Electricity has been cut intermittently and the water was shut off citywide Sunday morning, though a few women could be seen on the street filling basins with water from the lagoon.

“There is an in-country relocation of some 200 of our staff in order to ensure their safety in the currently challenging security environment. There are no plans to evacuate them from the country,” said Nicholas Birnback, a spokesman for the U.N. Peacekeeping Department.

A U.N. employee said they were taken by helicopter from the U.N. base in downtown Abidjan to the airport. Another helicopter will take them from there to the northern city of Bouake.

The person asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the press.

On Saturday, incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo called on his supporters to descend into the streets to form a human shield around the presidential palace. Boatloads of youth were ferried into the center of town and have been coursing the streets carrying rudimentary weapons such as two-by-fours and metal bars.

Ouattara’s camp reports that the vast majority of the military has defected to his side, leaving only a small contingent of fighters to defend Gbagbo.

Thousands of pro-Ouattara troops amassed on the city’s northern edge Sunday.

The U.N. reported that elite Republican Guard forces have repeatedly attacked its convoys and patrols.

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