Ivory Coast crisis: A guide to key players

Ivory Coast looks set for a final showdown, with forces loyal to the widely recognised election winner, Alassane Ouattara, approaching the main city, Abidjan, long the stronghold of Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power.

The BBC looks at the main characters involved in the dispute.

Laurent Gbagbo

Laurent Gbagbo cut his political teeth in the trade union movement and plays heavily on his reputation as the main opposition figure to former President Felix Houphouet-Boigny's one-party state.

In person he has a broad smile and an easy laugh, and is a born communicator, frequently making use of metaphors from Ivorian daily life.

Mr Gbagbo says the dispute is about a fight for Ivorian (and indeed African) sovereignty and accuses the French and Americans of having it in for him; Ivory Coast is the nation blessed by God and neo-colonialists want to control for its cocoa and oil fields, he says.

Still, the man who campaigned under the slogan "we win or we win", can be a stubborn political player and, his opponents claim, has links to violent militia groups like the students' union, the Fesci, the Young Patriots, and death squads, despite his reputation as a peaceful, Sorbonne-educated socialist.

The UN blames his militias for the worst violence against civilians.

He has also earned himself the nickname "the baker" for his ability to "roll his opponents in the flour", after showing an uncanny knack of coming out on top in any political tussle.

But he may now have met his match.

Alassane Ouattara

Known as "Ado" to his supporters, this technocrat studied in the United States and then spent most of his career abroad, working for the West African Central Bank, where he became governor, and the International Monetary Fund, where he was a deputy managing director.

When former President Houphouet-Boigny called the economist to help rescue Ivory Coast from economic stagnation, he was seen locally as an international technocrat.

However, after Mr Houphouet-Boigny's death, Mr Ouattara developed political ambitions, and the government of former President Henri Konan Bedie played the nationalist card, exploiting Mr Ouattara's links to neighbouring Burkina Faso to sideline him from presidential contests.

He has a reputation as a hard-worker, keen on transparency and good governance.

But his rivals criticise him for being too Western, and say he backed the 2002 attempted coup d'etat - something he denies.

However, those rebels now form the bulk of his fighting forces.

Guillaume Soro

Mr Ouattara appointed Mr Soro, head of the New Forces former rebels, as his prime minister in December, even though he had always denied links with them.

They have now been renamed the Republican Forces and are trying to oust Mr Gbagbo and install Mr Ouattara as president.

Mr Soro first rose to prominence as leader of the Fesci student movement in the 1990s.

Image caption Mr Soro became prime minister in a power-sharing deal with Mr Gbagbo in 2007

When he then became the public face of the rebels in 2002, he was initially dismissed as a puppet of mysterious powers.

But he has shown himself to be a skilled political operator and became prime minister in 2007 in a power-sharing deal with Mr Gbagbo.

The 38-year-old tried to shed his image as a rebel by attempting to become an impartial actor, organising presidential elections in which he was too young to take part - the minimum age in Ivory Coast is 40.

Charles Ble Goude

Charles Ble Goude took over from Mr Soro at the head of the Fesci movement at a time when the movement was getting increasingly violent.

Image caption Mr Ble Goude is the leader of the pro-Gbagbo Young Patriots student movement

Unlike Mr Soro, he has remained loyal to Mr Gbagbo, becoming his youth leader. He is known for his firebrand speeches denouncing plots by France and other Western powers.

The former English student was put under UN sanctions after being accused of inciting attacks against UN personnel.

Now Mr Gbagbo's youth minister, he has become a regular on state TV, insisting he is 100% minister and 100% general of the streets.

Critics had questioned whether he could still prove an effective mobiliser, with some critics within his own Young Patriots movement saying he had grown rich by exploiting the city's unemployed youth.

He did manage to convince thousands of Gbagbo supporters to enlist in the army before the advance of the Ouattara forces but that may not be enough.