Ivorian troops, rebels clash in Abidjan

ABIDJAN, (Reuters) – Soldiers loyal to Ivory Coast’s  rival presidential claimants Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane  Ouattara clashed yesterday, escalating a poll row and fears of  a renewed civil war in the West African state.  

At least four people were killed in street protests in the  main city of Abidjan while pro-Ouattara rebels and government  forces exchanged fire there and in Tiebissou, the central town  marking the line between the rebel-held north and  government-held south after a 2002-3 war, witnesses said.  

“I saw four killed and many wounded. They fired guns to push  us back when we tried to march down the street,” one protester  said of live rounds fired by the military at a crowd marching to  the state TV building. 
 
Heavy weapons fire rang out around the lagoon-side hotel  where Ouattara and his allies set up a parallel administration  as a tense days-long stand-off with pro-Gbagbo forces deployed  outside turned into a gun battle. 
 
“There is shooting all over the place. There is artillery.  There are explosions. It is all coming from the direction of the  Golf Hotel,” one witness said. 
 
The violence in the world’s top cocoa grower comes after  incumbent Gbagbo claimed victory in a Nov. 28 poll meant to  reunify the country, rejecting as fraudulent results from the  electoral commission showing a Ouattara win.  

The United Nations, the United States, African countries and  former colonial ruler France have recognised Ouattara as  president-elect, despite a ruling by Ivory Coast’s top legal  body upholding Gbagbo’s claims of fraud and giving him the win.   A spokesman for Ouattara’s camp said his supporters would  take to the streets of Abidjan again on Friday in an effort to  take control of the state broadcasting building, despite  yesterday’s violence.  
“We will continue to march,” Patrick Achi said by telephone.  

Telephone interviews conducted by Amnesty International with  people at the scene of the march indicated there were nine dead,  the rights group said. It said it had interviewed five  pro-Ouattara protesters and two local human rights workers.

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