February 3rd, 2008 02:42 EST
Rebel Forces Closing in on Chad Presidential Palace
Fighting between Chad's government and rebel forces has worsened around the presidential palace, where President Idriss Deby is trapped inside.
Residents in N'Djamena say they have heard automatic gunfire as well as heavy weapons and anti-tank fire near the palace.
A French official says President Deby has refused an offer to evacuate him from the rebel assault.
Rebel forces say they have surrounded the presidential palace and want to give Mr. Deby a chance to leave. But Chad government ministers say President Deby is still in charge. Residents of N'Djamena say they cannot tell who controls the capital.
Rebel leaders are also denying a Libyan news agency report that they have accepted a cease-fire proposed by Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Rebels began advancing on N'Djamena last week, vowing to overthrow President Deby if he will not accept a power-sharing government.
Mr. Deby has been in power since 1990. He has changed the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits.
HIs opponents charge him with corruption. Some of his close confidants have recently defected to the rebels.
The U.S. Embassy in N'Djamena says it is evacuating some employees and their families. France sent a plane to help any foreign citizens who wish to leave Chad. China has also been evacuating its nationals out of the country.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has condemned what he says is a brutal attack by the rebels against President Deby. Kouchner is calling for talks between rebels and the government. The United States also condemns the rebels' attempt to seize power, and it has appealed for calm.
Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.