Brussels (ANTARA News/AFP) - The European Union on Friday said Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo must "step down immediately and hand himself over to legal authorities".

"Alassane Ouattara is the democratically elected President of Ctte d`Ivoire," the EU`s top diplomat Catherine Ashton said in a statement amid a tense stand-off between the west African country`s two presidents that has led to heavy fighting in Abidjan.

"I urge Laurent Gbagbo to step down immediately and hand himself over to the legal authorities," she said.

Ashton called "on all sides to show restraint and to protect the civilian population.

"The UN mission in Ctte d`Ivoire should be allowed to fully implement its mandate to protect the civilian population."

She also warned that those "responsible for human rights violations will be held responsible before international justice".

Under immense foreign pressure and besieged by Ouattara`s forces in the economic capital Abidjan, Gbagbo held on as his forces repulsed an attack on his home and presidency on Friday.

The United States, France, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and the African Union have also urged Gbagbo to step down immediately, citing concerns over citizens caught up in the country`s bloody post-election conflict.

Troops loyal to Ouattara, who has been unable to take office since a November election, captured towns throughout the country in an offensive launched Monday, with a massive death toll reported in Duekoue in the west.(*)

Editor: Jafar M Sidik
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