Police were out in the Ivory Coast’s economic capital today after as many as 30 people were killed in protests yesterday sparking fears of civil war.
Supporters of the internationally recognized presidential election winner yesterday vowed to try to seize state institutions in Abidjan.
Security opened fire on demonstrators beating and killing marchers who had planned to disrupt state television.
The protesters were supporters of Alassane Ouattara, who was elected president last month in a long overdue vote but has not been able to take up office because President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to step down.
Reports of the number of dead and the scale of violence differ widely from as many as 32 to 6. Mr Gbagbo’s education minister said on state television that 20 people had died, and that 10 of these were police officers attacked by armed protesters.
Outside Abidjan, Ouattara supporters exchanged fire with the army. "There is shooting all over the place. There is artillery, there are explosions," one witness told Reuters news service.
The rising violence raises concerns that the West African country could slip back into full-scale civil war. In 2002-03 fighting split the Ivory Coast between its north and south. It is feared that if the conflict restarted it would also destabilise fragile neighbouring countries such as Liberia.
The country’s top elections officer called Mr Ouattara the election winner on December 2, by nearly nine-points. But a day later, the head of the Constitutional Council, who is close to president Gbagbo, threw out votes from parts of the north —Mr Ouattara’s stronghold — because of what he called “flagrant irregularities.” Since then, the country has been running with two parallel presidents.
Mr Ouattara set up a base in Abidjan's Golf Hotel, while Mr Gbagbo is still in the presidential palace. Now in the third week of the stand-off, Mr Ouattara urged his backers to march on the national broadcaster, which called Mr Gbagbo as president. But troops yesterday blockaded the streets and security forces fired live rounds and tear gas.
"They fired guns to push us back when we tried to march down the street," a protester told Reuters.
Ivory Coast, in French known as Côte d'Ivoire (the country gained independence from France in 1960), it is on the Atlantic Ocean between Liberia and Ghana. It is the world’s largest cocoa producer, but poverty and illiteracy rates are high, leaving behind children whose families are unable to raise them.