Violent clashes have marked a dispute over Cote d'Ivoire's Nov 28 presidential runoff poll [AFP]
Sustained gunfire rang out across Cote d'Ivoire's main city of Abidjan, ahead of a planned march to seize the state broadcaster's offices by supporters of the internationally endorsed winner of a disputed presidential poll. Wire reports claim four people have been killed as a result of clashes on Thursday.
Reports indicate that heavy weapons have also been fired near the base of Alassane Ouattara, the rival to the highly-criticised leader Laurent Gbagbo who was declared the winner of the poll by the country's highest legal body.
Earlier in the day, security forces on pick-up trucks with mounted machine guns blocked roads leading to Ouattara's base at the waterside Golf Hotel. The hotel is being guarded by UN peacekeepers.
Al Jazeera's Yvonne Nedge in Abidjan has reported that the area around the hotel has been heavily fortified by the military in an effort to keep Ouattara from being able to leave.
Ouattara has been declared president-elect by the country's electoral commission, the UN mission to Cote d'Ivoire, the US, France and the African Union, but Gbagbo remains in control of the army and state institutions.
The clashes come after Ouattara called on his supporters to take over state buildings on Thursday, prompting security forces to mass along several streets in the city.
It remains unclear as to who was responsible for the heavy weapons and sustained gunfire heard in the city ahead of the march.
Security forces have fired tear gas shells and stun grenades at stone-throwing protestors in neighborhoods and the city has come to a complete standstill. Some protestors were made to strip and lie naked on the street by the military, in a bid to dissuade people from joining the protests.
Businesses remain closed, and residents have mainly remained at home. Violent clashes between protestors and security forces have been reported from the Triechville, Abobo and Koumassi areas.
Police and soldiers have also taken up positions around the state broadcaster's offices, sealing off streets and blocking them with makeshift roadblacks constructed out of wooden tables and benches. Two armoured personnel carriers filled with helmeted troops were also parked nearby the television centre offices.
Tensions have been steadily mounting in the world's top cocoa grower since the Nov 28 runoff poll, which was intended to heal a north-south divide created by a civil war in 2002-03. Instead, shortly after Ouattara was declared winner by the country's electoral commission, the constitutional council overturned the result after invalidating half a million votes from Ouattara strongholds.
A top-level African Union delegation was due to meet Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, current chief of the West African bloc ECOWAS, on Thursday, as efforts by African countries to resolve the crisis continue. Ouattara has called for marches to take over state institutions on both Thursday and Friday.
Cocoa futures, meanwhile, have risen to four-month highs on fears of potential disruption to supplies. March cocoa futures were up $23 (0.8 per cent) at $3,002 a ton early Thursday.
In a move that may threaten a key source of revenue for Gbagbo's administration, which still controls state institutions, the country's chamber of commerce this week wrote to its members advising them not to pay any taxes.
Jean-Louis Billon, president of the organisation, has said that the status quo, where Cote d'Ivoire has two administrations, has made paying taxes impossible.