ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Paramilitary forces loyal to Ivory Coast incumbent Laurent Gbagbo killed at least six civilians on Monday in an Abidjan neighbourhood where his rival presidential claimant enjoys wide support, witnesses said.
A spokesman for the paramilitary gendarmerie said he had no information on any deaths from the troubles in the pro-Ouattara neighbourhood of Abobo, which he said was now calm.
Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara are locked in a violent power struggle over a disputed November 28 election that U.N. certified results show Ouattara won, but which Gbagbo, backed by his security forces, has refused to concede.
Two witnesses to separate shooting incidents in the area, where tensions are running high between residents and pro-Gbagbo forces, saw the bodies after an afternoon of running battles between protesters and the gendarmerie.
Louame Tasimir, a local trader and resident, said trouble started when gendarmes travelling in a civilian vehicle opened fire on a crowd to disperse it, killing two people instantly and wounding another, who died of his wounds shortly afterwards.
“They were shooting on the crowd, and people were fleeing. I saw two dead and another badly wounded who died afterwards,” he said. “Everyone was terrified. Then (the gendarmes) just left.”
Residents said youths then gathered in the streets and began a protest marched, and some tried to set fire to a local police station. The gendarmes responded by opening fire on them, killing at least three.
“The young were marching everywhere, making a lot of noise,” said Soum Vasseriki, a local teacher. “The gendarme reinforcements turned up and they fired on the crowds. I saw three bodies.”
Both witnesses said they could hear gunfire throughout Abobo between 2 pm and 7 pm. An official at the local mayor’s office gave a similar account of events.
A spokesman for the gendarmerie said: “the situation is now under control, the police station was not burned. I don’t have any information on deaths, but I can tell you it is now calm.”
Abobo has become a tinderbox since the election, which was meant to reunite a country divided since a 2002-3 war, but has instead deepened divisions. At least six policemen and some civilians were killed in clashes there in January.
The United Nations says at least 260 people have been killed in the poll dispute, many of them in raids on their homes by pro-Gbagbo forces and allied militias or mercenaries on pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods. Gbagbo’s camp denies this.
Police loyal to Gbagbo raided supporters of his rival in the east on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding at least nine, a local charity worker who carried the wounded to hospital said.