Ivorian troops kill protesters

Demonstrators against incumbent president shot by soldiers as African leaders meet in Cote d'Ivoire to resolve crisis.

    Protesters killed while Gbagbo meets with a panel of African leaders at the presidential palace in Abidjan [Reuters]

    Ivorian troops have killed at least six protesters calling on Laurent Gbagbo to step down from presidency, witnesses have said, as African presidents charged with resolving Cote d'Ivoire's political crisis met the incumbent in Abidjan.

    In the Koumassi district, residents said soldiers fired on protesters from machine-guns mounted on military vehicles on Monday.

    At least three demonstrators were killed, Djate Traore, a Koumassi resident, said.

    Three other people were reportedly killed and 14 wounded in the city's Treichville neighbourhood, an official at the mayor's office said, adding that he saw the dead and helped evacuate the wounded to a clinic.

    Meanwhile, foreign ministers travelling with African presidents late on Monday met Guillaume Soro, prime minister for Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognised as winner of a disputed November 28 election, which Gbagbo refuses to concede.

    Disputed poll

    A dispute over the poll, which was meant to bring stability after a decade of economic and political stagnation in the world's biggest cocoa-producing country, has paralysed the West African nation and led to the violent deaths of about 300 people.

    Cocoa exports have dried up, driving future prices to new highs. International banks have also shut down operations.

    A source who had access to preparatory talks on Sunday said the African panel would insist that Gbagbo stand down, in return for guarantees, to allow Ouattara to take charge of the west African country in accordance with to UN-certified results.

    There was no statement from the leaders during the day. Gbagbo has previously rejected similar proposals.

    The two rivals have formed opposing, parallel governments, although Ouattara remains restricted to a lagoon-side hotel
    protected by a ring of UN peacekeepers.

    Ouattara's government has called for an Egyptian-style revolution to remove Gbagbo but attempts to demonstrate have been thwarted by pro-Gbagbo security forces.

    Violent clashes

    Residents reported gunfire in pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods of Abidjan, the commercial capital, as soldiers and paramilitaries broke up attempted protests.

    Ouattara's camp said the death toll for Monday was twelve, including three civilians hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. There was no immediate comment from the military.

    Downtown Abidjan was deserted for most of the afternoon. Youths gathered in small numbers and set up roadblocks of burning tyres. Piles of stones lay scattered across roads.

    Similar attempts to demonstrate during the weekend were crushed by pro-Gbagbo forces, who witnesses said killed at least five people when they opened fire on attempted gatherings.

    Army spokesman Babri Gohourou told state television that at least four soldiers or policemen had been lynched by protesters in the past two weeks, with three of victims' throats cut.

    Protests continue

    The army extended an overnight curfew imposed on the weekend until Thursday. Ouattara's camp said protests would continue.

    "The Ivorian people will rise up against Gbagbo, because it can no longer accept that an impostor stays in power," his ambassador to France Ally Coulibaly told Le Parisien newspaper.

    "The people eventually get the better of all dictators, even the most impregnable."

    The leaders of South Africa, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso and Tanzania met in Mauritania on Sunday to discuss proposals drafted by African Union experts.

    Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaore did not travel to Cote d'Ivoire, where Gbagbo supporters accuse him of pro-Ouattara bias.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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