Gunfire erupts in Abidjan after women's marches

Tue Mar 8, 2011 6:30pm GMT

By Media Coulibaly and Tim Cocks ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Thousands of women marched through Abidjan on Tuesday calling for Laurent Gbagbo to step down, but one group was broken up by armed youths and gunfire erupted in several other places through the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said some 450,000 people are now believed to have fled their homes as a result of the post-election crisis, which African leaders will discuss again on Wednesday at the African Union headquarters.

Demonstrations were held in various parts of Ivory Coast's main city, a week after Gbagbo's forces shot dead seven women at an all-female march in Abobo, a neighbourhood that has backed Alassane Ouattara, Gbagbo's rival.

Though these ones appeared to go more peacefully, they were swiftly followed by outbreaks of gunfire in many of the neighbourhoods where they happened.

In Port Bouet, near Abidjan's airport, witnesses said about 50 pro-Gbagbo youths armed with AK47 assault rifles and machetes turned up to disperse 200 women who tried to march there.

"They fired into the air to disperse the women. They had weapons to intimidate them, but they didn't hurt anyone," said Bernard Aurega, vice president of Ouattara's party in Port Bouet, who saw the march.

Ever since Gbagbo rejected U.N.-certified results showing he lost a November presidential election to Ouattara, supporters of the latter have seen their attempts to protest being met generally with violent repression.

The poll was meant to end a decade of instability and economic stagnation but resulted in deadlock and rising violence in Abidjan and the west of Ivory Coast has raised the prospects of another civil war in the world's top cocoa producer.

The U.N. has said at least 365 people have been killed during the crisis but diplomats believe the real toll is much higher.   Continued...

<p>Anti-Gbagbo protesters demonstrate in Treichville, Abidjan March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon</p>
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