Abidjan: Two police and two civilians were shot dead as Ivory Coast forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo moved into an Abidjan bastion of his presidential rival on Tuesday, dashing hopes for a peaceful end to the crisis.
Two men in civilian clothes were shot dead on the streets of the Abobo neighbourhood, mostly loyal to the man the world says won November`s Presidential Election, Alassane Ouattara, after Gbagbo`s troops swooped.
A Gbagbo government spokesman said that two security forces had also died of gunshot wounds, without elaborating on the circumstances.
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 produce any visible result 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 ECOWAS has said it is prepared to send in its own troops if defiant strongman Gbagbo fails to stand down.
Hundreds of members of incumbent Gbagbo`s Defence and Security Forces (FDS) as well as armoured personnel carriers were deployed in the tense Abidjan district.
Residents said that blood stains on the ground in front of a church around 200 metres (yards) from the dead civilians were from the two dead security forces.
A crowd of angry youths erected barricades across one of the district`s main streets, forcing a patrol from the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country, UNOCI, to turn back.
Gbagbo`s "Street General" Charles Ble Goude, head of the hardline Young Patriots, postponed a political rally he had been due to hold in the neighbourhood on Tuesday afternoon.
"We have postponed our rally to allow the military operation under way to be satisfactorily completed," Ble Goude said.
One of his aides said the rally was called off also "out of respect for the victims of the clashes”.
An FDS member as well as local youths said that there had been exchanges of fire between the FDS and inhabitants.
Residents said that security forces had entered the district early Tuesday and raided homes saying they were searching for weapons.
The violence came as the head of Gbagbo`s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), rejected an offer from Ouattara`s UN ambassador for his supporters to form a unity government.
Pascal Affi N`Guessan said Gbagbo`s victory over Ouattara was "non-negotiable" after UN envoy Youssoufou Bamba said the rival camps could work together, provided Gbagbo stand down.
"The starting point is that Mr Gbagbo is the elected and officially proclaimed president, sworn in by the Constitutional Council," N`Guessan said.
"What is non-negotiable is the victory of Laurent Gbagbo, officially elected and proclaimed, who governs the country.”
AU envoy and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga is to fly to Abidjan within days, his spokesman said, the latest in a cascade of African leaders seeking an end to the deadly stand-off.