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Official: Rebels close in on Ivory Coast capital

 In this photo taken on Tuesday, March 29, 2010, people walk with their belongings towards a railway station as they leave Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Rebel...
 In this photo taken on Tuesday, March 29, 2010, people of different nationalities gather at a station as they leave Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Rebel force...

Ivory Coast

In this photo taken on Tuesday, March 29, 2010, people walk with their belongings towards a railway station as they leave Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Rebel...

Ivory Coast

In this photo taken on Tuesday, March 29, 2010, people of different nationalities gather at a station as they leave Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Rebel force...

A spokesman for Ivory Coast's leader clinging to power called for a cease-fire as rebel forces backing the internationally recognized winner of the disputed election advanced toward the capital from two different directions Wednesday.
If the fighters take the capital of Yamoussoukro, it would be a largely symbolic trophy as the real seat of power is in the biggest city, Abidjan. But if Yamoussoukro falls, it would open up main highway to the commercial capital, only 143 miles (230 kilometers) away.
Supporters of internationally recognized leader Alassane Ouattara hope that would prompt incumbent Laurent Gbagbo to finally accept an offer of exile four months after the disputed presidential election unleashed political chaos in this West African nation. At least 462 people have been killed and up to 1 million have fled their homes since the vote.
Capt. Leon Alla, a defense spokesman for Ouattara, said pro-Ouattara forces had taken control of two towns just west of the capital _ Bouafle and Sinfra.
Another front, coming down from the north, was also advancing toward the capital, said Seydou Ouattara, a military spokesman for the rebel force who is not related to the country's leader. He said the town of Tiebissou, the last city before Yamoussoukro, had fallen Wednesday morning.
A priest in Tiebissou, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said Gbagbo's forces tried to fight off the rebels for 3 1/2 hours before fleeing.
Another priest said he saw the bodies of three dead soldiers in the town, which is 21 miles (35 kilometers) from the capital. Several wounded from both sides were being treated at the hospital, and he said it did not appear any civilians had been wounded. People were looting public buildings in Tiebissou, including the police station, he said.
A third front from the east of the country was advancing south, with combat taking place in Akoupe on Wednesday. The rebels secured Bondoukou and Abengourou along the Ghana border on Tuesday, and seemed poised to strike directly at Gbagbo on this front as Akoupe is only 70 miles (113 kilometers) from the country's biggest city of Abidjan.
As the rebels advanced from three directions, a Gbagbo spokesman called for a cease-fire and mediation. Spokesman Don Mello told Radio France Internationale the army has adopted a strategy of tactical withdrawal. He warned, however, that Gbagbo's forces could use their "legitimate right of defense."
A statement read on state television Tuesday night declared that the thousands of youth who enlisted in Gbagbo's army last week would be called up for service starting Wednesday morning.
Asked about the cease-fire offer, a Ouattara ally said it was necessary to resort to legitimate force.
"President Alassane Ouattara was patient and gave Mr. Laurent Gbagbo every possibility to leave power peacefully. He refused every offer made to him," Ivory Coast's ambassador to France, Ali Coulibaly, said on French radio France Inter Wednesday.
A statement put out by Ouattara's RHDP party late Tuesday said "all peaceful avenues to convince Laurent Gbagbo of his defeat have been exhausted."
The Vatican announced that it was sending a representative to Ivory Coast Wednesday to encourage a peaceful reconciliation to the conflict.
Over the past few days, rebels fighting to install Ouattara have advanced east toward the center of the country. On Tuesday they claimed to have seized the major cities of Duekoue and Daloa.
Highways from Daloa lead south to the port of San Pedro, which could be used to resupply the rebels who do not currently have access to the sea, and east to Yamoussoukro.
But many believe a bloody final battle for the presidency will take place in the commercial capital of Abidjan, which is split into pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara neighborhoods.
Fighting in these areas has been almost daily, with mortars and machine guns being used against civilians. In the past several weeks, fighters loyal to Ouattara have taken effective control of several northern districts in the city.
At least one body lay bloated in the sun in the downtown Plateau business district Wednesday morning, witnesses said. Armed youth who guard nightly barricades around town have started to keep them running during the day.
"These boys are armed. They aren't the police. They stop everyone and demand money," said a taxi driver who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals. "This morning I saw them pull a man out of his car and beat him with the butts of their guns."
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Associated Press writers Michelle Faul in Johannesburg; Rukmini Callimachi in Bamako, Mali; and Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-21 22:11 GMT+08:00