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French ambassador's home attacked by Gbagbo loyalists

French helicopters gunned down armed assailants loyal to Laurent Gbagbo as they attempted to break into the French ambassador's residence in Abidjan, Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said Thursday.

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REUTERS - French helicopters attacked and destroyed two pickup trucks of armed assailants who tried to break into the French ambassador's residence in Ivory Coast, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said on Thursday.

The armed men were apparently from forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, who is refusing to cede power to rival Alassana Ouattara, who the United Nations said won a Nov. 28 election. "Two armed pickups coming from the residence of the former president Gbagbo tried to penetrate the French residence while firing. They were destroyed ... in defence by Licorne helicopters," Longuet told the French Senate.

Earlier, armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard said French Licorne ("Unicorn") forces that back up U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast had also destroyed military vehicles belonging to Gbagbo's troops during a helicopter-borne mission overnight to rescue Japan's ambassador to the West African country.

The French, who this week joined U.N. helicopter raids to destroy Gbagbo's heavy weapons, went in after Gbagbo soldiers broke into the Japanese residence, where ambassador Yoshifumi Okamura and seven staff had taken shelter inside a safe room.

The attacks came as forces loyal to Ouattara laid siege to Gbagbo's own residence nearby after an attempt to pluck him from his bunker on Wednesday met with fierce resistance.

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