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Ivory Coast Rebels Advance Toward Capital

People walk with their belongings towards a railway station as they leave Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Rebel forces backing Ivory Coast's internationally recognized president were advancing toward the capital Wednesday, March 29, 2010

Fighting in Ivory Coast has intensified, with forces backing the country's internationally-recognized president moving toward the official capital of Yamoussoukro.

Witnesses say fighters loyal to Alassane Ouattara entered at least two new towns Wednesday after seizing several cities the day before from forces of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo.

The Associated Press quotes Mr. Ouattara's defense spokesman as saying fighters have taken control of the central towns of Bouafle and Sinfra. Witnesses also report gunfire in Tiebissou, a town just 40 kilometers from Yamoussoukro.

A spokesman for Mr. Gbagbo, Don Mello, has called for a cease-fire and the opening of dialogue. He added that Gbagbo's forces will use what he called their legitimate right of defense.

Most countries recognize Mr. Ouattara as the winner of a presidential election in November, but Mr. Gbagbo has refused to relinquish power.

The incumbent leader continues to control Ivory Coast's largest city and financial capital, Abidjan.

Late Tuesday, the Gbagbo government has called on members of the president's youth movement to enroll in the army.

The United Nations at least 472 people have been killed since the political crisis began in early December.

It says up to a million people have been displaced, with thousands fleeing west to Liberia and Ghana in the east.

The disputed election was meant to reunite Ivory Coast, nearly a decade after a brief civil war left it split into rebel and government-controlled areas. Efforts by the African Union to find a peaceful solution to the post-election crisis have so far failed.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.