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Women killed in Ivory Coast protest

Seven women have been killed in a peaceful protest in the Ivory Coast as the country teeters on the brink of all-out civil war.

The west African country is experiencing bloodshed and economic meltdown after President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing an election.

At least 365 people have died since the contested election, according to estimates from the United Nations, and more than 200,000 people have fled the country.

At an anti government protest organised by women on Thursday, security forces fired machine guns in Abobo, a poor suburb of the commercial capital, Abidjan.
It happened as the women were setting off on a march to call on Laurent Gbagbo to step down as president.

"Men in uniform drove up and started shooting randomly. Six women died on the spot," Idrissa Diarrassouba told Reuters news service. A seventh died in hospital. Many others were wounded.

Sirah Drane, 41, who helped organise the march, said she had been holding a megaphone and preparing to speak to the large crowd that had gathered at a roundabout. "That's when we saw the tanks," she told Associated Press. "There were thousands of women. And we said to ourselves: 'They won't shoot at women' … I heard a boom. They started spraying us … I tried to run and fell down. The others trampled me. Opening fire on unarmed women? It's inconceivable."

As the country inches closer to civil war, millions of people have been left short of food and money. The president, Laurent Gbagbo, has cut off electricity and water supplies to millions of people in the north of the country ‘for political reasons’, the UN said.

On Friday, aid agencies warned that the worsening situation in was stopping refugee workers and medical staff from helping those worst hit by the crisis.

Some 70,000 people have been forced out of their homes in the west, where there has been heavy fighting around the towns of Duekoue and Blolequin, said the UN.

The UN also said its experts are probing suspected sanctions-busting arms deliveries from Zimbabwe to Gbagbo and ‘the arrival of light weapons cargoes from Zimbabwe.’ in December.

Investigators are also looking into a shipment of 10 large wooden crates "which may contain trucks or tanks." The report said the consignment has been at Abidjan port for six months under "24/7" military surveillance.

The country has been under an arms embargo since the last outbreak of serious violence in 2004, when pro-Gbagbo forces bombed French peacekeepers in the rebel-controlled north.

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