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High-level defections, UN sanctions signal possible end for Ivory Coast stalemate

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Luc Gnago/Reuters

(Read caption) Soldiers loyal to Laurent Gbagbo patrol a street in Abidjan on March 31. Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara said his fighters were 'at the gates' of Abidjan on Thursday after a rapid advance aimed at unseating his rival, Gbagbo. Soon after, heavy weapons fire rang out in the center of Abidjan, the West African country's main city, and Gbagbo's elite forces took positions around the presidential palace, Reuters witnesses said.

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Ivory Coast’s army chief, Phillippe Mangou, has taken refuge at the residence of the South African ambassador in the country's main city, Abidjan.

The move – coupled with the defection of the country's senior general in charge of the police, Gen. Edouard Kassarate – is a crushing blow to renegade President Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to relinquish power since the Nov. 28 election has sparked a return to civil war in the West African country.

Together with fresh United Nations sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo's regime, the defections could mean the long and deadly political stalemate between Gbagbo and President-elect Alassane Ouattara may finally be drawing to a close.

Forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara – the recently renamed Republican Forces of Ivory Coast (FRCI) – have taken control of the key port city of San Pedro and the nation’s official capital, Yamoussoukro. They are also pressing into new neighborhoods of the country's main city, Abidjan. Rumors that Mr. Gbagbo himself had taken refuge with the South African Embassy are rife, but were denied by South African officials.

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