Reports of tear gas fired at protesters as internationally recognised vote winner prepares to seize control of state TV.
|Soldiers loyal to Gbagbo blocked Ouattara’s supporters from marching on to government buildings [AFP]|
Calm has returned to Cote d’Ivoire including its main city, Abidjan, after nearly a day of deadly clashes over disputed presidential election results.
However, supporters of presidential claimant, Alassane Ouattara, said their protests would continue on Friday.
There were conflicting reports on the number of people killed on Thursday in the clashes between security forces and supporters of rival claimants to the presidency of the western African nation.
A government spokesman said at least 20 people were killed Abidjan in street protests against Laurent Gbagbo, recognised by the country’s highest legal body as the winner of the November 28 presidential runoff. Ten of them were said to be demonstrators and 10 security forces.
Supporters of Ouattara had planned a march on the headquarters of state television held by Gbagbo, but fighting broke out when they were faced with heavily-armed security forces.
Soldiers loyal to Gbagbo clashed with supporters of Ouattara, who was declared president-elect by the country’s election commission.
Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Abidjan, said the situation had calmed considerably late on Thursday.
“At least four people were killed in Abobo, which is very near the state TV offices, but the opposition is saying 12 of their supporters have died.”
Our correspondent said it would be almost impossible for Ouattara’s supporters to take control of state buildings and offices because Gbagbo, who was president for 10 years, still controlled the police and the military.
“They [security forces] are loyal to him [Gbagbo] and believe adamantly that he won the election and that the official results showing Ouattara’s victory were fraudulent … so in their eyes they are simply defending the constitution and keeping law and order.”
Human rights group Amnesty International citing witnesses said at least nine unarmed people were killed in Abidjan during the protests.
Hours of violence
The US state department said its embassy in Cote d’Ivoire was hit by an errant rocket-propelled grenade during the protests.
“It does appear that an errant RPG did strike the outer perimeter of the embassy with only slight damage and no injuries,” Mark Toner, a department spokesman, said.
Earlier reports indicated that heavy weapons were fired near Ouattara’s base at the Gulf Hotel, as security forces on pick-up trucks with mounted machine-guns blocked roads leading to the area. The hotel was guarded by UN peacekeepers.
Farhan Haq, a spokesperson for Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said in a statement the UN has sent almost 800 military and police personnel and eight armoured personnel carriers to provide security at the Gulf Hotel.
Haq said on Thursday he had established contact with both sides with the aim of stopping the fighting in Abidjan.
Thursday’s clashes came after Ouattara called on his supporters to take over state buildings, prompting security forces to mass along several streets in Abidjan firing tear-gas shells and stun grenades at stone-throwing protesters.
There were also reports that the military forced some protesters to strip and lie naked on the street in a bid to dissuade people from joining the protests. Businesses were closed, and residents had mainly stayed home.
Police and soldiers surrounded state TV offices, sealing off streets and blocking them with makeshift roadblocks 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 mounting in the world’s top cocoa grower since the 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 the winner by the country’s electoral commission, the constitutional council overturned the result by invalidating half a million votes from Ouattara strongholds.
A top-level African Union delegation was due to meet Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president and the current chief of the West African bloc ECOWAS, on Thursday, as efforts by African countries to resolve the crisis continue.
In a move that may threaten a key source of revenue for Gbagbo’s administration, the country’s chamber of commerce this week wrote to its members advising them not to pay any taxes.
Jean-Louis Billon, the president of the organisation, has said that the status quo, where Cote d’Ivoire has two administrations, has made paying taxes impossible.