Dec 16



Deadly Violence Erupts Before March in Ivory Coast

Published: December 16, 2010

DAKAR, Senegal — Security forces loyal to the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, opened fire on demonstrators in the economic capital of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Thursday morning ahead of a planned march, leaving a number of dead and wounded, according to observers and press reports.

Reports from the scene described at least four dead among supporters of Alassane Ouattara, who was elected president in a long-delayed vote last month but has been unable to assume his office because Mr. Gbagbo refuses to leave it.

A leading human rights group in Abidjan, along with Mr. Ouattara’s camp, reported sharply higher death tolls by mid-morning Thursday, however, saying some 13 to 14 had been killed as heavy firing continued.

A Gbagbo government police spokesman refused to confirm the death toll in a phone interview from Abidjan, saying: “I know nothing about it.”

A reporter for The Associated Press in Abidjan described seeing the bodies of three men — one shot in the head; two others in the chest — in the streets of the rundown Abobo neighborhood.

“There have already been a lot of deaths,” said Drissa Traoré, head of the Ivorian Movement for Human Rights, the MIDH, in a phone interview from Abidjan. “In every neighborhood, the security forces are firing on people, and it’s still going on. When I call people in the neighborhoods, I can hear gunshots,” Mr. Traoré said. “They are shooting with the intention to kill.”

Clouds of smoke hung over several neighborhoods as tear gas canisters burned, The A.P reported.

Demonstrators confronted well-armed security forces across the city after Mr. Ouattara’s prime minister, Guillaume Soro, called for a march on the headquarters of state-run television. Television broadcasts have become a powerful weapon in Mr. Gbagbo’s fight — rejected by international organizations and foreign powers — to stay in office.

Mr. Ouattara’s government has been based in a hotel, protected by several platoons of United Nations troops, in an upscale Abidjan neighborhood. It was not immediately clear what role the United Nations troops were playing on Thursday; a spokesman for the international organization in Abidjan declined, for the moment, to take questions.

Mr. Gbagbo has found himself increasingly isolated, but has so far appeared unwilling to loosen his grip on power, despite both election officials and the United Nations saying Mr. Ouattara won the Nov. 28 election.

Last week, the African Union suspended Ivory Coast until Mr. Gbagbo stepped down. The United States has said it would consider sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo, his family and supporters if he did not do so.

Since the election, human rights advocates have raised concern that government death squads, present during the country’s brutal six-year civil war, were reappearing. Witnesses and advocates say squads of government security forces have targeted opposition activists and residents in neighborhoods known to support Mr. Ouattara.

At least 20 have been killed around the country, including nine in Abidjan alone, according to Amnesty International.

Adam Nossiter reported from Dakar, Senegal, and J. David Goodman from New Yor

16 December 2010 Last updated at 12:30

Ivory Coast troops fire on protesters

The army surrounded the TV station and clashed with supporters of Alassane Ouattara

Soldiers loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, one of Ivory Coast’s would-be presidents, have fired on protesters trying to take control of state TV and killed at least three people, reports say.

Amid widening unrest in Abidjan, witnesses also reported gunfire near the hotel of Alassane Ouattara, who also claims to be president.

Both men say they won a presidential election last month.

The UN, which backs Mr Ouattara’s claim, has urged calm.

“The secretary general is reminding those who incite or perpetrate violence, and those who use the media for that purpose, that they’ll be held accountable for their actions,” said Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Martin Nesirky.

He also reiterated that the UN wanted Mr Gbagbo to stand down.

Heavy arms
The BBC’s John James in Abidjan says shots have been fired in the air by the security forces and tear gas used to disperse demonstrators in outlying districts of the city.

He says there is a high security around the television station, with army tanks blocking the main boulevards.

The AFP news agency reported that four protesters had been killed in the clashes, other reports put the figure lower.

Mr Ouattara and his Prime Minister Guillaume Soro have been confined to the waterfront Hotel Golf since the impasse over the election results began two weeks ago.

The hotel is guarded by the UN, which has about 10,000 peacekeepers in the country that was divided by civil war in 2002.

Fighters from the New Forces (FN), Mr Soro’s former rebel group that still controls the north of the country, are also guarding the hotel.

The electoral commission declared that Mr Ouattara won the run-off by 54.1% to 45.9%, but Mr Gbagbo immediately refused to admit defeat.

The Constitutional Council then annulled some results from the north and declared Mr Gbagbo the winner.

Our reporter says Mr Ouattara’s supporters are keen to gain control of the state television, which has been broadcasting reports praising of Mr Gbagbo.

An official march led by Mr Soro and his ministers is expected to head towards the television station.

Most shops and businesses were shut and the city streets around the centre are deserted, our correspondent says.


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