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Ivory Coast cops teargas protesters

15 December 2010, 23:23

Abidjan - Ivory Coast police fired teargas to disperse hundreds of protesters in the capital Yamoussoukro who demanded that incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo step down after a disputed presidential poll, witnesses said on Wednesday.

Allies of Gbagbo's rival Alassane Ouattara have called for mass street protests later this week to attempt to seize the state broadcaster and government buildings controlled by soldiers loyal to Gbabgo in the main city, Abidjan.

The protests are raising the stakes in the dispute over who should rule the world's top cocoa producer after the election commission and world leaders said Ouattara won last month's election but a top Ivorian legal body handed victory to Gbagbo.

"Young people wanted to march to criticise Laurent Gbagbo for stealing the election but the police fired teargas to disperse them," said Sory Toure, a witness.

"There are police in the streets at the moment. The markets, banks and the shops are closed. The town is paralysed."

Two other residents confirmed the incident. There were no reports of injuries.

Despite a flood of international condemnation, Gbagbo has resisted outside pressure to step down, retaining the loyalty of the armed forces and accusing foreigners of interfering in his country's internal affairs.

Rebel-controlled territory

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 teargas.

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 Abdijan.

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.

- Reuters


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