February 19, 2010 / 12:50 PM / 9 years ago

Protesters killed in southern Ivory Coast: sources

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Security forces in Ivory Coast opened fire on hundreds of protesters in southwestern Gagnoa town on Friday, killing at least three people, opposition and hospital sources said.

Ivory Coast opposition supporters walk on a blocked road in the capital Abidjan February 17, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

The violence is the latest in a series of demonstrations in the world’s top cocoa grower since President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved the government and the electoral commission after a row over voter registration last Friday.

“There are deaths but I cannot tell you the exact number as that is up to the authorities,” a hospital source told Reuters.

An opposition member who was at the march put the number of dead at three, but there was no independent confirmation.

An official in Ivory Coast’s military headquarters who declined to be named said two security agents had been wounded after some protestors pelted them with stones.

A separate hospital source said dozens of people were being treated there, mainly for gunshot wounds.

Cocoa cooperative manager Francois Badiel said the demonstration had brought the town, in a key cocoa producing area in the southwest of Ivory Coast, to a standstill.

West Africa’s former economic powerhouse is under increasing international pressure to restart an electoral process meant to end a crisis started by a 2002-2003 war. The poll was originally supposed to take place in 2005.

ANGER GROWING

Gbagbo’s decision — taken after he accused electoral commission head Robert Mambe of illegally adding names to the electoral register to boost the opposition vote — is certain to push back the latest election time frame of early March.

Public anger is boiling over at years of political instability and limbo while Ivorians wait for elections seen as the only way of drawing a line under their bitter conflict.

The killings by security forces are likely to escalate tensions that are already high. Opposition leaders have called for civil disobedience unless Gbagbo reinstates the electoral commission but until now protests had been largely peaceful.

Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, a former rebel until a 2007 peace deal, is due to name a government on Saturday, although that could be delayed by political wrangling. It is not clear when or how a new electoral commission will be formed.

Rising tensions threaten to hurt a cocoa industry that supplies 40 percent of world demand, and could scupper an election the World Bank this month said must be held if the country is to obtain debt relief.

Despite the civil war and years of subsequent crisis, cocoa in Ivory Coast has never seriously been disrupted.

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