Abidjan, Apr 3 : French troops have taken over the airport in Ivory Coast’s main city, Abidjan, the AFP news agency reports.
France has also sent an extra 300 soldiers to Ivory Coast, military spokesman Thierry Burkhard told AFP.
Fighting has raged in Abidjan since Thursday night as forces loyal to the UN-recognised president, Alassane Ouattara, are battling those of his rival, the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. More than 1,500 foreigners are sheltering in a French army camp.
They include about 700 French nationals, some 600 Lebanese citizens and 60 Europeans of assorted nationalities, French media report.
An adviser to Mr Ouattara says his forces have been gathering outside Abidjan in preparation for a final push to depose Mr Gbagbo, the AP news agency reports.
Ivorian state TV, which is controlled by Mr Gbagbo, accused French troops of preparing a genocide like the one in Rwanda in 1994, when more than 800,000 people were killed.
A strap line on state TV on Sunday read: “(French President Nicolas) Sarkozy’s men are preparing a Rwandan genocide in Ivory Coast. Ivorians, let us go out en masse and occupy the streets. Let us stay standing.”
Mr Sarkozy has called a cabinet meeting for Sunday afternoon to discuss the crisis in Ivory Coast.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has again called for Mr Gbagbo to stand down. Retired South African Archbishop and Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu appealed to both sides to lay down their arms. “We’ve got a massive, horrendous humanitarian situation there with so many, over a million refugees already,” he told the BBC on Sunday. “We’ve got to do everything we can to stop the killings and call on both sides - but especially Ouattara’s side - please exercise as much restraint as you can. It’s people’s lives that are at stake.”
On Saturday, heavy artillery fire was heard in Abidjan as the two sides fought for key sites including the presidential palace, the headquarters of state TV and the Agban military base.
Four UN soldiers were seriously wounded when special forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a UN armoured personnel carrier.
The west of Ivory Coast has also seen vicious battles between rival militias and ethnic groups. On Saturday, the Caritas aid agency said its staff had found the bodies of hundreds of people in Duekoue, and estimated that 1,000 may have died.
The killings occurred between 27 March and 29 March in the Carrefour district, which was controlled at the time by fighters loyal to Mr Ouattara, spokesman Patrick Nicholson told the Associated Press.
“Caritas does not know who was responsible for the killing, but says a proper investigation must take place to establish the truth,” he said.
Most of the 1,000 peacekeepers based in Duekoue had been protecting about 15,000 refugees at a Catholic mission there, Mr Nicholson added.
The International Committee of the Red Cross put the death toll at about 800, while the UN said more than 330 people were killed as Mr Ouattara’s forces took over Duekoue, most of them at the hands of his fighters. However, more than 100 of them were killed by Mr Gbagbo’s troops, it added.
Sidiki Konate, a spokesman for Mr Ouattara’s government, said that while some people had been killed in the fighting between the two sides in recent days, there had been no deliberate killings of Gbagbo supporters.
ICRC staff who visited Duekoue on Thursday and Friday to gather evidence said the scale and brutality of the killings were shocking.
Tens of thousands of women, men and children have fled the fighting