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Fresh violence in Abidjan, 4 gunned down at roadblock

world Updated: Mar 16, 2011 13:37 IST

Four people were gunned down in a chic suburb of Abidjan Tuesday in a fresh burst of violence in the economic capital of Ivory Coast, the stage of fierce post-election violence in recent days.

The attack comes as the west African cocoa giant is wracked by conflict in the wake of a disputed presidential election on November 28, which the UN says has left some 400 dead in a bloody tug-of-war for the country's top job.

Strongman Laurent Gbagbo who has ruled for 10 years is refusing to yield power despite being widely recognised as having lost the vote to rival Alassane Ouattara.

Witnesses reported Tuesday evening a group of armed men arriving by taxi at a roadblock in the residential suburb of Cocody and opening fire, leaving four dead.

"I saw three people get out of a taxi, machine gun in hand, they started firing at passers-by, it was horrible," said one resident, adding that the attackers fled in the same taxi.

Another witness said "four youths lying" on the ground were Gbagbo supporters while a third said they were "rebels," a term used by Gbagbo's camp to describe fighters loyal to Ouattara.

Several days of heavy fighting have raged as pro-Gbagbo troops try to fend of a push by Ouattara fighters, known as "invisible commandos", south into the downtown district where the presidential palace is located.

The insurgents are moving from northern stronghold Abobo, a populous suburb of 1.5 million people where much of the violence has been concentrated.

On Tuesday pro-Gbagbo forces were in control of a strategic military barracks in the northern suburb of Adjame which was attacked by their rivals the day before, blocking the route to Plateau, in the centre of Abidjan.

"We are in control of the camp, we are busy carrying out a sweep of the area, but the fighting was very, very hard," said a police source who spoke on condition of anonymity on Tuesday morning.

"They were determined, they were numerous," he said, referring to the pro-Ouattara fighters.

Gbagbo troops used heavy weapons and reinforcements from a nearby camp of paramilitary gendarmes, the country's biggest, to beat back the assailants.

The restive suburbs are largely impenetrable due to security concerns, making it impossible to establish the number of casualties.

Fighters are reportedly making use of Kalashnikovs, 81 and 82mm mortars, LRPG7 rockets and machine guns.

Terrified residents fled their homes on Tuesday, carrying bundles on their heads and bags in their arms, an AFP journalist reported.

Condemning recent bloodshed, the Group of Eight world powers on Tuesday brandished the threat of "new sanctions" against "those who are an obstacle to a peaceful solution" in the country.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, whose country currently heads the G8, told reporters he was confident financial sanctions were taking effect and Gbagbo was being "progressively asphyxiated".

International leaders are trying to choke off Gbagbo's power economically, a strategy which UN special representative in Ivory Coast Choi Young-jin said Monday was starting to bite the outgoing president.

"President Gbagbo's camp is beginning to have difficulty in paying its civil servants and even its soldiers."

Gbagbo, who lost diplomatic ground when the African Union endorsed his rival's presidency last week, has dismissed reports he is losing military support.

The stalemate has observers fearing a return to a 2002-2003 civil war, which split the country into the rebel-held north and government-run south.

The UN refugee agency on Tuesday reported the distribution of aid to thousands of Abidjan residents who have been displaced in the fighting, estimating some 300,000 have been displaced in the city.

"The situation for Abidjan residents and humanitarian personnel remains precarious," said the UNHCR.