ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Six policemen were killed in Abidjan Wednesday in a second day of fighting between security forces loyal to Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo and supporters of his rival Alassane Ouattara, witnesses said.
A spokesman for Ouattara’s government, Patrick Achi, said by telephone that Gbagbo’s forces killed around seven civilians.
Sustained gunfire and what sounded like explosions from heavier weapons rang out for several hours from across the pro-Ouattara neighbourhood of Abobo, a day after fighting there killed at least five people, witnesses said.
A Reuters reporter saw two civilians lying in the road, alive but with gunshot wounds.
The world’s top cocoa-producing country has been in turmoil since a November 28 presidential election that both Ouattara and Gbagbo claim to have won. Ouattara is widely regarded by foreign governments as having legitimately won the U.N.-certified poll.
“Confirmed killings, we have at least seven, including two kids,” Achi said, citing a report he had received from Abobo’s mayor and calling it a “provocation.”
Gbagbo’s interior ministry spokesman Aboulaye Traore said six police were killed, three wounded and three vehicles burnt in a rocket propelled grenade attack by Ouattara supporters on Wednesday. Two police were killed the day before, he said.
The army chief of staff Philippe Mangou announced a curfew in Abobo in response to the violence, from 1900 GMT to 0600 the following morning until the weekend, adding that he had sent extra troops in armoured vehicles to Abobo to encircle it.
“There are units on the ground who will react ... meaning getting rid of the rebels, getting rid of the weapons and allowing the population to go about their business in the normal way,” Mangou told journalists.
The U.N. said in a statement that U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast were slightly wounded when their patrol was ambushed by pro-Gbagbo forces in Abidjan Tuesday evening.
Mangou said the peacekeepers fired first.
In another incident, pro-Gbagbo forces seized food trucks going to a hotel in which Ouattara is being besieged by them, and let their supporters loot the trucks Wednesday, the U.N. mission said.
Armoured vehicles carrying police, soldiers and paramilitaries left army headquarters towards Abobo, where youths have set up roadblocks to try to prevent them entering.
BODIES OF POLICEMEN IN Burnt VEHICLES
Mamadou Kante, another Abobo resident, said he saw four police vehicles burnt, with at least four bodies of policemen inside near Abobo town hall.
The source gave no further details.
Another witness in a different area, Abdoulaye Cisse, said: “I’ve never heard such loud weapons firing here. From the bottom of my apartment, I saw the body of one policeman.”
Ouattara was proclaimed victor by the electoral commission and has been recognized by world leaders. But Gbagbo, who has ruled the west African country for a decade, retains control of the military and police. The stand-off risks rekindling a 2002-3 civil war that divided the country in two.
Violence has killed more than 200 people since the vote, and fear of further conflict has prompted more than 20,000 people to flee into neighboring Liberia, according to U.N. figures.
The United Nations says many among the dead were killed by pro-Gbagbo security forces or allied militias in regular nighttime raids on neighbourhoods, like Abobo, that are seen as pro-Ouattara. Hundreds of other people may have been abducted and taken to secret detention centres, U.N. officials fear.
“The people of Abobo have had enough,” said resident Amara Souara. “Every day there are abductions and killings here. We have a duty to defend ourselves.”
Gbagbo’s camp denies killings and kidnappings. Asked on French TV station Canal+ how this would all end, Gbagbo replied: “I hope that it will end with a discussion ... I will be ready to speak to (Ouattara) ... once we are seated around a table.”
Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly and Tim Cocks in Abidjan, Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations and Nick Vinocur in Paris; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Maria Golovnina