Nairobi (ANTARA News/AFP) - The African Union Friday urged Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo to step down immediately in favour of internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara.

AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping "urges Mr. Laurent Gbagbo to immediately hand over power to President Alassane Dramane Ouattara in order to shorten the suffering of the Ivorian people," a statement said.

Ping said he "deeply regrets" that Gbagbo`s refusal to accept the proposals made by a panel of heads of state set up by the AU as well as "his rejection of all other initiatives aimed at ending the crisis, have not made it possible to speedily complete the implementation of a peaceful solution to the crisis ..."

The panel`s proposals were formally approved at an AU meeting in Addis Ababa on March 10 which confirmed that the continent recognised Ouattara as president. Gbagbo`s camp said the AU`s position was unacceptable.

The Addis Ababa meeting effectively marked the end of diplomatic efforts to find a way out of the crisis.

This latest call by the AU comes as intense fighting rages around Gbagbo`s home and the presidential palace in Abidjan.

Fighting between soldiers loyal to the outgoing president and Ouattara`s army started Thursday night around 10:00 pm within the perimeter of Gbagbo`s residence.

It was impossible to confirm if Gbagbo was still in his home.

An aide of Gbagbo`s in Paris said Friday that Gbagbo has no intention of stepping down.

"A meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council is anticipated at the beginning of next week to discuss the latest developments in Ivory Coast," Ping`s spokesman Noureddine Mezni told AFP.(*)

Editor: Jafar M Sidik
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