ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivorian security forces on Wednesday fired on protesters in the capital Yamoussoukro demanding that President Laurent Gbagbo leave office, killing one person and wounding others, witnesses said.
Allies of Gbagbo’s rival Alassane Ouattara in a post-election stand-off have called for mass protests later this week to try to seize the state broadcaster and government buildings controlled by soldiers loyal to Gbagbo in the main city, Abidjan.
The protests are raising the stakes in the dispute over who should rule Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer.
Election commission results showed Ouattara won last month’s election. But the pro-Gbagbo Constitutional Council scrapped nearly half a million votes in Ouattara bastions to hand victory to Gbagbo on grounds of fraud, raising international outrage.
Leaders around the world have recognised Ouattara as president of Ivory Coast, but Gbagbo remains in control of the military, state television and radio and government buildings.
“There was firing and one policeman killed one of the protesters,” said Olga N’Da, a medical worker who helped treat the wounded on the scene. “There were many wounded but we didn’t get the precise number.”
The local chief of Ouattara’s party, Jeanne Peuhmond, said the military opened fire towards protesters, who numbered in the hundreds, after the crowds retreated to the party headquarters. At least four were wounded, he said.
Residents reported that all of Yamoussoukro was shut down, with markets, banks and shops closed. Local security forces were not available for comment.
Despite a tide of international condemnation, Gbagbo has resisted outside pressure to step down, retaining the loyalty of the armed forces and accusing foreigners of interfering in the internal affairs of his west African country.
Ouattara has set up a parallel administration in a lagoon-side hotel, protected by a ring of United Nations peacekeepers, but had relied on diplomacy and threats of sanctions until his camp called for marches this week.
African leaders have expelled Ivory Coast from regional and continental bodies until Ouattara is put in charge, and the European Union agreed this week to impose sanctions on the Gbagbo and his allies.
On Tuesday, thousands of protesters in rebel-controlled territory marched south to the boundary with the government-held zone to demand that Ouattara take power, but security forces pushed them back with tear gas.
Security officials say Gbagbo has beefed up troops in the capital, a town he uses more as a retreat for himself and his allies than to conduct government business, which mainly happens in the commercial hub of Abidjan.
Yamoussoukro lies just over 40km south of the dividing line between government and rebel-controlled territory.
Although fighting was short-lived during Ivory Coast’s civil war, the country has remained divided since 2002 and the rebels still in charge of the north have backed Ouattara.
Writing by David Lewis and Tim Cocks, editing by Mark Heinrich