Armed clashes as Ivory Coast stand-off turns bloody

The stand-off between two self-declared presidents spread to the streets.

Abidjan: Backers of Alassane Ouattara were set to march on Friday after bloody clashes erupted in Abidjan and central Ivory Coast leaving a dozen dead and many more hurt, as the stand-off between two self-declared presidents spread to the streets.

Supporters of Ouattara had intended to march on Thursday on the headquarters of state television, held by his rival the incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, but fighting broke out when they were faced with heavily-armed security forces.

A Gbagbo spokeswoman said 10 protesters and 10 police and soldiers were killed, while rights group Amnesty International confirmed nine dead civilians and Ouattara`s camp said two of its men and 30 demonstrators died.

Former rebels loyal to Ouattara`s choice for prime minister, Guillaume Soro, fought fierce gun battles with Gbagbo`s government security forces in Abidjan and in the central town of Tiebissou on the 2003 civil war ceasefire line.

Soro vowed that Ouattara`s supporters would march again on Friday, despite the violence, and would once more try to take control of RTI state television as well as launching a bid to seize the prime minister`s office.

The UN Security Council meanwhile threatened crimes against humanity action for deadly attacks on civilians, warning all sides "that they will be held accountable for attacks against civilians and will be brought to justice, in accordance with international law and international humanitarian law."

Journalists saw the bodies of at least four pro-Ouattara protesters dead from bullet wounds in two districts of Abidjan. The Red Cross said it had "treated and evacuated" 80 people hurt in the clashes.

Both Ouattara and Gbagbo claim to have won last month`s election, and both have declared themselves president, leading to a dangerous new stand-off in a country already divided since 2002 into northern and southern armed camps.

Ouattara has been recognised by the international community but has proved unable to assert his rule, with Gbagbo retaining control of the ministries, the Army and the cocoa ports that are the key levers of state power.

In Washington, a senior US official predicted that Gbagbo would cede to international pressure and hand over power to Ouattara in the coming days.

Bureau Report