ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivorian security forces fired live bullets and teargas on Saturday to disperse protesters in Abidjan calling for incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo to step down, killing at least two, witnesses said.
His rival, Alassane Ouattara, has called for Egypt-style mass protests to oust Gbagbo, who has refused to step down as leader of the world’s top cocoa grower after a November 28 presidential poll that U.N.-certified results show Ouattara won.
Witnesses said hundreds of youths gathered in Abobo, a pro-Ouattara area of the main commercial city Abidjan, but soldiers and police dispersed them. Abobo has often been the scene of violent clashes between security forces and civilians.
“The ... youths started assembling at the roundabout this morning. The security forces came in armoured vehicles and fired teargas and bullets into the air,” said Tieba Doumbia, 30, who owns a small shop nearby.
A teargas grenade landed in a local market, forcing dozens of women to flee, he said. Witness Abdullaye Traore said — and an official at the military’s headquarters confirmed — that one women was killed by a stray bullet. Other witnesses said at least one protester was wounded by a bullet.
Protesters also looted the department store of a Lebanese businessmen seen as close to Gbagbo. There are tens of thousands of Lebanese in Ivory Coast, running everything from small shops to huge export businesses. Many are seen as pro-Gbagbo and Lebanon’s ambassador was one of only two at his swearing in.
Meanwhile, in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Koumassi, at least one person was killed and five wounded by bullets, resident Didier Houndesso said. “I saw the body and the wounded. The security forces have been shooting since this morning.”
The army imposed a night-time curfew across the country this weekend that will be lifted at 0600 GMT on Sunday.
Gbagbo has defied widespread international condemnation and Western sanctions by clinging to power, with backing from a legal body that overturned Ouattara’s win and the military, which has crushed dissent.
West Africa’s central bank has cut him off, triggering a liquidity crisis that has forced international banks to close up shop. Gbagbo decreed this week that the main ones are to be forcibly nationalised and re-opened on Monday .
Paramilitary forces loyal to Gbagbo killed at least six civilians in Abobo last week. At least 300 people have been killed in violence since the disputed election, mostly Ouattara supporters killed by pro-Gbagbo forces, the United Nations says.