A look at the key figures in the Ivory Coast conflict:
ALASSANE OUATTARA: Ouattara's victory in the Nov. 28 presidential election was recognized first by the country's electoral commission, and then by the United Nations, which pored over thousands of tally sheets before certifying his win. He has been recognized by governments around the world, including the U.S., former colonial ruler France and the African Union.
The 69-year-old former International Monetary Fund economist is often accused of being a foreigner born in Burkina Faso, though he maintains that both he and his parents were born in Ivory Coast. He was twice barred from running in past elections because of questions about his origins. His struggle for Ivorian citizenship resonated with millions in the country's predominantly Muslim-north and with the country's large population of second- and third-generation immigrants, and he became their electoral champion.
Ouattara has been holed up for months in the lagoonside Golf Hotel in Abidjan, protected by U.N. peacekeeping troops.
LAURENT GBAGBO: Ivory Coast's incumbent leader who has been refusing to cede presidential powers despite increased international and national pressure. Gbagbo, 65, has held the office in Ivory Coast for 10 years, a full five years longer than his constitutional mandate. He delayed holding last November's election at least six times, canceling it every year only to promise, then fail, to hold it the next.
Gbagbo rose to prominence as the leader of the opposition to the country's independence leader, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who held power for 33 years until his death in 1993. Gbagbo forced Houphouet-Boigny to hold the country's first multiparty elections and became the icon of the movement for change. But he became president in 2000 after a flawed election. Ouattara was barred from running on a technicality, as were other prominent political leaders, meaning that Gbagbo faced off against the unpopular leader of the previous year's military coup.
Gbagbo has maintained his rule for the last four months by controlling state television and the military. He is accused of using the army to attack the population with heavy-artillery and of arming citizen militias.
He has not been seen in public since the offensive began five days ago, but those in his inner circle say he is still in Abidjan and will fight until the end.