Six killed in Ivory Coast as police attacked

Abidjan – At least six people were killed today as Ivorian police were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades in an Abidjan district largely loyal to Laurent Gbagbo’s rival for the presidency.

Five of the dead were police officers, a police source said, and an AFP correspondent saw a dead security guard in the commercial capital’s locked-down Abobo district, with an end to the escalating crisis nowhere in sight.

The violence came the day after two civilians and two police were shot dead in the bastion of Alassane Ouattara, the man the world says beat strongman Gbagbo in a presidential election, after hundreds of Gbagbo troops moved in.

“We don’t have an army, Gbagbo’s army comes here and fires on civilians and we have no way of protecting ourselves,” said one resident, who declined to give his name.

“We couldn’t sleep, the children were crying all night,” said another terrified resident.

Sporadic gunfire could be heard around midday as Defence and Security Forces (FDS) fired in the air to clear streets littered with at least four burnt-out vehicles and unmanned roadblocks preventing civilian traffic circulating.

An AFP correspondent saw two burntout police trucks and large pools of blood on the street and inside some buildings, where residents said security forces had been shot and taken away.

FDS troops patrolled in pick-ups mounted with heavy machine guns, sporadically firing in the smoke-filled air and sending panicked residents fleeing as tyres smouldered nearby.

The bank security guard’s body lay on a rooftop where residents said he had tried to seek refuge when fighting erupted during the night. This morning his blood was still dripping into the courtyard below.

A security source told AFP that police positions had come under repeated rocket-propelled grenade attack during the night. Inhabitants said exchanges of gunfire had been heaviest between midnight and 2am.

The United Nations says that over 200 people have died in the crisis so far, with African-led efforts to mediate the stand-off failing to make any visible progress as the army loyal to Gbagbo besieges Ouattara’s headquarters.

The African Union’s mediator is to return to Abidjan within days, while regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has said it is prepared to send in its own troops if defiant strongman Gbagbo fails to stand down.

Residents said that security forces had entered the district early Tuesday and raided homes saying they were searching for weapons.

Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), on Tuesday rebuffed an offer from Ouattara’s UN ambassador for his supporters to form a unity government, insisting Gbagbo’s victory was “non-negotiable”.

AU envoy and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the latest in a cascade of African leaders seeking an end to the deadly stand-off, is to return to Abidjan after briefing AU Commission chief Jean Ping in Nairobi.

Ecowas has said it could, as a last-resort, send in troops if talks fail.

Gbagbo and his supporters are becoming increasingly isolated as international powers ramp up pressure on the strongman to step aside.

France said it will approve Ouattara’s nomination as ambassador, former journalist Ali Coulibaly, today.

Ouattara is protected at the besieged Golf Hotel in Abidjan by around 800 UN peacekeepers as well as the ex-rebel New Forces allied with his camp since troops shot dead several of his supporters on December 16. 

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