Abidjan: Forces backing Ivory Coast`s recognised President Alassane Ouattara seized the capital Yamoussoukro on Wednesday, while the UN Security Council slapped sanctions on strongman Laurent Gbagbo.
Residents of Yamoussoukro, the country`s small political capital, reported scenes of jubilation in the streets, as Ouattara`s Republican Forces took control of the city on the third day of an all-out offensive.
"Yamoussoukro is under the control of the Republican Forces, a jubilant crowd is cheering them, they are parading through town," one resident said.
Ouattara`s forces were also pushing closer to San Pedro, the world`s largest cocoa exporting port.
Meanwhile in New York, the UN Security Council on Wednesday unanimously ordered sanctions against Gbagbo over his refusal to hand over power.
Resolution 1975 made the first explicit call by the 15-nation Security Council for Gbagbo to stand down in favour of Ouattara, who the United Nations and virtually all countries say won a Presidential Election last November.
A travel ban and assets freeze were ordered against Gbagbo, his wife Simone, and three of his closest associates.
The European Union and United States have already imposed sanctions against Gbagbo and his leadership.
Gbagbo has called for a ceasefire, but Ouattara`s camp dismissed this as a "diversion".
"It is up to Gbagbo to lay down arms," Ouattara`s spokeswoman Anna Ouloto said.
Election-linked violence has left at least 460 people dead with as many as one million fleeing their homes, according to UN agencies.
Weary of failed diplomatic efforts four months after the vote, Ouattara`s camp has declared all peaceful solutions "exhausted”.
"Gbagbo has only a few hours to leave, otherwise we will march on Abidjan," the country`s economic hub, Ouattara`s Prime Minister Guillaume Soro told the France24 news channel.
"It will become a lot more complicated for him," he warned.
In Abidjan, shooting could be heard in several northern suburbs. Panicked citizens rushed to their homes, reports said.
The pro-Ouattara fighters, after seizing the town of Tiebissou earlier in the day, pushed south to Yamoussoukro, home to 150,000 people.
"Everything is okay, the station, the gendarmerie are occupied by the Republican Forces. We no longer see the FDS," a resident said, referring to Gbagbo`s Defence and Security Forces.
"We see the Republican Forces circulating in 4X4`s across town," a resident said.
Several witnesses said the fighters had left only a small detachment in Yamoussoukro before continuing south towards the coast.
A resident of Toumodi, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of the capital, reported shooting in the town. Toumodi lies 200 kilometres from Abidjan.
In the past three days, Ouattara`s fighters have rapidly moved south of a traditional ceasefire line that has split the country in two since 2002.
A failed coup against Gbagbo nine years ago left pro-Ouattara rebels in control of the north and the strongman holding the south.
Also on Wednesday, two French police assigned to the French embassy were wounded when pro-Gbagbo forces fired on their car, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Paris, condemning the incident as "unacceptable”.
Ally Coulibaly, Ivory Coast`s ambassador to France appointed by Ouattara, said his camp controlled "three quarters" of the country.
In Abidjan, thousands of fervent Gbagbo supporters who had been urged to enlist in the Army if they were "willing to die for their country" were called up on Wednesday.