ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Gunmen shot dead four people on Tuesday near a roadblock run by youth supporters of Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo in the Abidjan suburb of Deux Plateau, several witnesses said.
The world’s leading cocoa-producing country has been in violent turmoil since a disputed presidential election pitting incumbent leader Gbagbo against rival Alassane Ouattara. U.N.-certified results showed Ouattara won, but Gbagbo has refused to concede.
“I’m not sure what happened but we heard a burst of shooting near the youth roadblock just behind the Sococe supermarket,” said Marco Abade, a resident of the leafy, middle-class neighbourhood.
“We heard screaming and there were four bodies of youths on the road,” Abade added, saying he did not know if the dead were members of a pro-Gbagbo youth militia, who have set up roadblocks all over town, many armed with automatic weapons.
Another witness said one of the dead was initially badly wounded and was rushed to a local clinic where he died.
Battles between gunmen backing Gbagbo and Ouattara have raged in Abidjan’s Abobo neighbourhood, an Ouattara stronghold, for three weeks but shifted this week closer to the centre of town.
Fighting has also spread to the west, across a north-south ceasefire line in place since the end of the 2002-3 war, increasing fears that an election meant to reunite the country will instead reignite the conflict.
Army chief General Philippe Mangou, whose immediate neighbourhood in west Abidjan was the scene of intense gun battles on Monday, told the pro-Gbagbo newspaper Notre Voie on Tuesday that his forces were ready for war.
“If they push us towards war, we’ll make war. This is what we in the process of doing,” he was quoted as saying.
The rebels who seized the north during the war have backed Ouattara but Ouattara’s camp has distanced itself from the fighting.
Ouattara has international recognition but remains holed up in a hotel protected by United Nations peacekeepers while Gbagbo has remained defiant despite international sanctions.
Former colonial power France said on Tuesday that sanctions would eventually force Gbagbo from power.
On Monday pro-Ouattara gunmen advanced as far as Adjame, close to the central business district, in clashes that killed at least one person, and launched two simultaneous attacks in the Gbabgo stronghold of Yopougon.
“This place was in a state of total combat. There were grenades and artillery shells launching everywhere,” a car parts trader told Reuters TV, as he surveyed the wreckage of his shop, which was destroyed by an explosion, leaving only a twisted metal frame.
Several buildings in the neighbourhood of Williamsville, which is part of Adjame, were still smoking. The body of a dead civilian lay on the main motorway leading into it.
A Reuters team was unable to go deep into the area because of a road block by pro-Gbagbo youths, often armed and violent.
The latest African Union effort to mediate in the dispute in the world’s top cocoa grower failed last week, underpinning cocoa futures’ 32-year highs.
Forces loyal to Gbagbo said they launched an assault on Saturday to drive pro-Ouattara fighters calling themselves “invisible commandos” out of northern Abidjan’s Abobo district, where they have held sway for three weeks.
On Monday, the commandos appeared to have expanded the territory in which they operate to areas 10km from their base, although security sources say many have since been pushed back.
Witnesses did not know if the shooting was linked to the growing rebellion against Gbagbo or not.