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Along Ivory Coast’s eastern border with Ghana, the rebels secured Bondoukou and Abengourou Tuesday and got as far as Akoupe, which is only 70 miles (113 kilometers) from Gbagbo’s seat of power in Abidjan.

As the rebels advanced, Gbagbo spokesman Don Mello called for a cease-fire and mediation, telling that Radio France Internationale that the army has adopted a strategy of tactical withdrawal. He warned, however, that Gbagbo’s forces could use their “legitimate right of defense.”

Asked about the cease-fire offer, Ouattara’s political party said it was necessary to resort to legitimate force. “All peaceful avenues to convince Laurent Gbagbo of his defeat have been exhausted,” said the statement issued Tuesday.

Late Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast to “use all necessary means to carry out its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence … including to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population.”

The resolution also slapped a travel ban and asset freeze on Gbagbo, his wife, and three key aides.

Ouattara, whose parents hail from thew country’s north, had long tried to distance himself from the rebels based there who fought in a brief civil war almost a decade ago that left the country split in two. The fighters say they have taken up his cause of their own volition and say they plan to fight until the democratically elected leader is able to assume office.

While moving on Yamoussoukro and Abidjan, the rebels have also been advancing toward the seaport of San Pedro.

While San Pedro is a key objective for Ouattara, because it will allow him to export cocoa and lumber, and will allow the fighters to resupply by sea, the final battle will take place in the commercial capital of Abidjan, which is split into pro-Gbagbo and pro-Ouattara neighborhoods.

Fighting in these areas has been almost daily, with the army still loyal to Gbagbo routinely using mortars, tanks and machine guns against civilians. In the past several weeks, fighters loyal to Ouattara have taken effective control of several northern districts in the city.

The palm-lined boulevards snaking along Abidjan’s lagoons have now become a puzzle of checkpoints, some manned by boys in Gbagbo T-shirts and others headed by men garlanded in amulets and fetishes, the sign of the northern rebels.

Associated Press writers Michelle Faul in Johannesburg, Greg Keller in Paris and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.