Residents reported a stream of families leaving Abobo, watched over by UN peacekeepers [Reuters]

Cote d'Ivoire's state television broadcasts have been disrupted in Abidjan, the country's largest city, after a transmitter was damaged in fighting between forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent leader, and rival groups.

RTI state television has backed Gbagbo in a three-month struggle for power with Alassane Ouattara after a November 28 presidential election which UN-certified results showed Ouattara won.

"The clashes took place around the transmitter ... this morning you can see smoke coming out of the transmitter centre," said Doulaye Ouattara, a local resident, adding that some youths had vandalised the premises. He is not related to Alassane Ouattara.

The overnight clashes were the latest in Abidjan's pro-Ouattara neighbourhood of Abobo. Last week a series of explosions and gunfire rocked the city, while an advance by rebel forces in the west of the country has prompted fears of a return to civil war in the once-prosperous African state.

The channel was not accessible by terrestrial aerials in a number of neighbourhoods in Abidjan, said residents contacted by the Reuters news agency.

An RTI journalist who did not want to be named said technicians were working to repair the transmitter.

Estimates for the size of Abidjan's population range from between three to five million of a national population of some 21 million. Some continue to be able to access to RTI via satellite.

Mass exodus

Residents on Sunday reported seeing a steady stream of families leaving Abobo, watched over by UN peacekeepers in armoured vehicles.

After the night's fighting, pro-Gbagbo forces also deployed a number of armoured vehicles to the neighbourhood.

The UN mission said three peacekeepers were wounded when they were shot at while patrolling Abobo, accusing Gbagbo supporters of carrying out an ambush amid violence against peacekeepers on Friday and Saturday.

"UNOCI wishes to recall that under international conventions, any attack against UN peacekeepers constitutes a war crime," it said, noting its rules of engagement allow the use of force to defend UN staff or equipment.

Major powers and most African neighbours have recognised Ouattara as president, but Gbagbo has refused to step down, citing a decision by the country's constitutional council to declare the vote rigged and hand him victory.

The crisis has pushed cocoa futures in Cote d'Ivoire, the world's largest cocoa grower, to 32-year highs over supply concerns.

The European Union has banned its ships from docking at Ivorian ports and exporters have largely followed a call by Ouattara for a temporary embargo on cocoa supplies.

Other sanctions have paralysed the country's banking sector, crippling the economy and prompting some analysts to forecast a fall in gross domestic product until the impasse is over.

Source: Agencies