Ivory Coast: Women 'shot during pro-Ouattara march'

Watch: The BBC's John James says groups have formed road blocks in Abidjan

Security forces in Ivory Coast have shot dead at least six women marching in support of Alassane Ouattara in the main city of Abidjan, witnesses say.

Mr Ouattara is recognised by the UN as the winner of November's election, but Laurent Gbagbo has refused to concede power.

The shooting took place in Abobo, a pro-Ouattara stronghold which has seen violent clashes for more than a week.

The UN says around 200,000 people have fled the recent unrest in the district.

The women were taking part in a march, organised by Mr Ouattara's RHDP political alliance, known in French as "Operation Gbagbo Degage" (Operation Gbagbo Clear-off).

Women carry a sign reading "Gbagbo Leave. Enough is Enough" as they arrive to join an unauthorised protest calling for Laurent Gbagbo to step down on Monday 28 February 2011 Another women's march was held in Abidjan on Monday calling on President Gbagbo to leave office

They say it was intended to be a peaceful protest, but in the central district of Treichville they were tear-gassed

Then in Abobo, in the northern part of Abidjan, eyewitnesses said the police opened fire.

"Men in uniform drove up and started shooting randomly," Idrissa Diarrassouba, a resident in Abobo, told Reuters news agency.

It is this sort of violence that the UN says has prompted thousands of people to flee the area - many moving back to their villages or in with relatives elsewhere in the city.

The BBC's John James in Abidjan says a curfew continues in Abobo as security forces loyal to Mr Gbagbo struggle to control the area.

Despite their superior weaponry, they have sustained heavy losses against armed men who say they are defending the district from night-time raids on Mr Ouattara's supporters, our reporter says.

Power cuts

Ivory Coast

Map
  • World's largest cocoa producer
  • Once hailed as a model of stability, slipped into internal strife several years after death of first President Felix Houphouet-Boigny in 1993
  • An armed rebellion in 2002 split the country between rebel north and government south
  • A power-sharing government took over in 2007 with the ex-rebel leader as prime minister
  • 2010: First presidential elections in 10 years -culmination of the peace process

On Wednesday, international radio stations, including the BBC, were taken off air without explanation.

Electricity and water were then cut off in northern Ivory Coast - a region traditionally opposed to Mr Gbagbo.

In an official statement, the electricity company has denied any responsibility for the power cuts, saying they were a direct result of armed men taking control of the distribution centre on Monday.

Our correspondent says few of the millions of Ivorians who live in the north have any other means of generating electricity in a country that normally has very reliable supplies.

Hospitals are already reported to be struggling and humanitarian agencies are working out how to respond.

Standstill

Mr Gbagbo's government has blamed technical difficulties for the fault, saying they cannot import spare parts because of the European Union embargo on the country's ports.

Supporters of Mr Ouattara, who still remains under blockade at a hotel in Abidjan despite his widely-recognised election victory, say the cuts are crimes against humanity.

Our reporter says the country has come to a standstill more than three months after the election.

International sanctions aimed at forcing President Gbagbo to hand over power have heavily reduced economic activity.

Over the last few days, informal road blocks have been set up throughout Abidjan manned by pro-Gbagbo youth, often armed with AK-47s, machetes and knives, our reporter says.

The presidential election was supposed to reunify the world's largest cocoa producer which was split between north and south since an armed rebellion in 2002.

Recent unrest has prompted the UN to warn of a return to civil war.

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