Defence Minister Rene Amani said 18 attackers and one member of the security forces were killed in three separate shootouts on Thursday night. Some attackers were taken prisoner, he said in Abidjan.

   

Tensions are running high in the world's top cocoa-producing nation, which remains divided between a government-controlled south and rebel-held north despite a formal end to a civil war which erupted in 2002 after a failed coup.

   

Thursday's shootings marked the worst single day of violence in the economic capital Abidjan since rebels tried to seize power in September 2002. Around 300 people were killed then as the insurgents battled government troops in the city.

 

Crossroads of Death

   

State television on Friday showed at least four different bodies, filmed at night and lying in pools of blood. One of the corpses had magic charms wrapped around the torso.

   

Shaken residents of the upmarket neighbourhood of Cocody, the scene of the heaviest violence, gathered at the site of one shooting - a roadblock at a junction dubbed the "Crossroads of Death" because of the frequent traffic accidents there.

 

Peace process looks shaky

Bloodstains and piles of clothes could be seen near the roadblock, not far from the state television building. Paramilitary police were out in force.

   

"At around midnight my wife and I heard gunfire... Our watchman told us they had just killed some bandits," said Michel Agnero, a teacher who lives near the crossroads.

   

Armoured personnel carriers roamed the streets near Cocody after the shootings. Bursts of gunfire could be heard.

   

Progress towards peace in the former French colony has been hampered by rebel political grievances and demands by President Laurent Gbagbo that they lay down their guns.

   

The Ivorian army and rebel officers have agreed to start withdrawing heavy weapons from the front line splitting the country from Saturday, but there is no set date for full-scale disarmament as yet.

   

Pro-Gbagbo loyalists have pledged to attack rebel positions if they don't disarm next week although the ceasefire line is policed by some 4,000 French and 1,300 West African troops.