February 20, 2011 / 8:27 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-Ivorian forces kill three, AU meets

* Ivorian security forces prevent gatherings in Abidjan

* African leaders meet in Mauritania on Ivorian crisis

(Adds leaders discussing options)

By Loucoumane Coulibaly and Laurent Prieur

ABIDJAN/NOUAKCHOTT, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Ivorian security forces killed at least three civilians when they opened fire to disperse gatherings in an Abidjan district on Sunday, and African leaders ended meetings to resolve a three-month post-election stand-off.

There were no organised protests, but security forces fired bursts of live rounds to prevent groups from forming, witnesses said from Abobo, a stronghold of Alassane Ouattara, who is internationally recognised as winner of the Nov. 28 election.

Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to cede power has paralysed the world’s top cocoa grower, with both men forming parallel governments. The economy has ground to a halt due to sanctions and intermittent violence that has killed about 300, most of them Ouattara supporters.

“Armed men in military uniforms opened fire on a gathering, killing three people. I saw the bodies,” said witness and Abobo resident Ladji Traore.

There was no immediate comment from the Ivorian military or police, who rarely respond to such reports.

At least two people were also killed on Saturday when pro-Gbagbo security forces fired live rounds and teargas at protesters, witnesses said.

“There was shooting again this morning. People are running back to their houses,” said Idrissa Diarrassouba, an Abobo resident.

Five African leaders mandated by the African Union (AU) to find a binding solution to the crisis met in Mauritania on Sunday and were due to take proposals to the rival camps in Ivory Coast on Monday. They did not address the media.

Diplomatic sources said the heads of state were discussing at least four options put forward by an AU group of experts.

Both sides are deeply entrenched in their positions and previous mediation missions have left empty-handed, so expectations that the leaders of South Africa, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso and Tanzania will achieve a breakthrough are low.

Although the Ivorian economy is collapsing as cocoa exports dry up and banks close, Gbagbo has defied international recognition of Ouattara and sanctions imposed on his clan, and retains the support of the military, for now.

Saturday’s attempts to protest by Ouattara supporters were the first since his camp said Ivorians should not expect anything from African diplomacy but should instead launch an Egypt-style revolution to force Gbagbo from power.

The poll last year was due to draw an end to a decade of division and economic stagnation sparked by a 2002-3 war, which split the nation in two. Instead, the rifts between the rebel-controlled north and Gbagbo-dominated south have been exacerbated. (Writing by David Lewis; editing by Jon Boyle)

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