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Ivory Coast's pro-Ouattara forces storm presidential palace

Rights groups warn that civilian casualties could be high as forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara surround the residence of incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan.

This photo taken on February 23, 2010 in Abidjan shows Ivory Coast soldiers standing guard in front of the presidential palace.

Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom/File

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The conflict in Ivory Coast appeared to enter its final phase Friday as forces loyal to President-elect Alassane Ouattara stormed the presidential palace of incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan.

Mr. Ouattara’s troops have extended their presence from their stronghold in the country's north all the way south to the nation’s largest port of San Pedro, inland to the nation’s capital of Yamoussoukro, and now to the largest city and commercial capital of Abidjan.

Mr. Gbagbo's whereabouts are unknown at this time. Pro-Ouattara forces seized control of the presidential palace Friday, and a spokesman for the president-elect said they believed the incumbent was inside, but a spokesman close to Gbagbo said he was in a "secure location" in Ivory Coast.

IN PICTURES: Ivory Coast besieged

With Ouattara now in control of about three-quarters of the country and the end seeming near for Gbagbo, concerns also mounted over civilian safety.

On Friday, the initially impartial African Union called for Mr. Gbagbo to “immediately hand over power to President Alassane Ouattara, in order to shorten the suffering of the Ivorians.” Gbagbo refused to step down after a Nov. 28 presidential election, which international election observers, the United Nations, and African Union all claim Ouattara won.

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