The bitter and bloody power struggle that has raged in the Ivory Coast since a disputed presidential election in November appears to have reached a climactic moment.
Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara--the internationally recognized winner of the election--are currently surrounding incumbent Laurent Gbagbo in the country's commercial capital of Abidjan and clashing with police. The Ouattara camp says Gbagbo won't be harmed if his troops are defeated in Abidjan, while the Gbagbo camp refuses to cede power and appears to be preparing for a last stand. "The end is almost here. It's a matter of hours," an Ouattara spokesman tells the Associated Press. Abidjan, the AP says, is "dangerously divided" between Ouattara and Gbagbo supporters. French troops have reportedly entered the city to, at least in part, protect French nationals from the violence.
Pro-Ouattara fighters (pictured above) have seized a key cocoa port and a string of towns--including the country's administrative capital-- since launching their offensive on Monday, after months of fruitless diplomatic efforts to oust Gbagbo from power. According to the AP, Ouattara's fighters may now control about 80 percent of the Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo's army chief sought refuge with South Africa's ambassador on Thursday and the head of the military police may have also defected, according to the BBC. The defections come a day after the U.N. Security Council reiterated its demand that Gbagbo step down and imposed new sanctions on Gbagbo and his aides. The U.S. State Department has urged both sides to show restraint and protect civilians.