Ivory Coast crisis deepens

2010-02-22 21:13

Abidjan - At least two protesters died on Monday during an opposition demonstration that turned violent in Ivory Coast, witnesses said, deepening the crisis sparked by the president's dissolution of the government earlier this month.

The protests came after top opposition leaders said they refuse to join a new coalition government was expected to be announced later on Monday.

An Associated Press Television News journalist said he also saw two dead bodies being guarded by police during the demonstration in the northern Abobo district of Abidjan on Monday.

Alexander Brou, a local pastor, said he watched police severely beat several protesters.

Bus driver Mema Camara said hundreds of young men started gathering early on Monday morning, building barricades, cutting off all traffic and burning tyres. They hurled stones at approaching cars before riot police used tear gas and fired into the air to disperse the crowds.

"The police began beating anyone they could catch," he said. "We hid in our houses to avoid them."

Opposition supporter Ahmed Coulibaly said the police followed demonstrators into their houses and took them away.

Scandalised, traumatised

"We're scandalised. We're traumatised. It reminds us of the worst moments of the civil war," he said.

The West African nation has been divided between a rebel-controlled north and a government-controlled south since war broke out in 2002. The sides formed a unity government in 2007 and were preparing for presidential elections when President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved the government on February 12.

Presidential elections have been postponed every year since 2005, when Gbagbo's term ended.

Opposition protests also took place in at least four other cities across the country on Monday.

Mediator Blaise Compaore, Burkina Faso's president, also arrived in Abidjan on Monday to start a series of crisis negotiations with the presidential camp and the opposition.

Opposition leaders invited Compaore to mediate an exit to the political crisis after they refused to participate in a new government with Gbagbo.

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