Mar 4, 2011

A woman walks near piles of burning trash in ...

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – The government of Ivory Coast's internationally recognized leader said the country's deepening political crisis has "crossed over to a new level of horror and barbarism" after soldiers backing his rival fatally shot six female demonstrators.

Thousands of women were protesting sitting president Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to cede power on Thursday when tanks showed up and soldiers opened fire.

"Indeed, we anticipated everything short of imagining that one could shoot live rounds at unarmed women, all the more with tanks," said Patrick Achi, the spokesman for the government of Alassane Ouattara, whom the U.N. said defeated Gbagbo in the Nov. 28 election.

The United Nations says that nearly 400 people have been killed in the three-month-long dispute, though Ouattara's camp said Friday that total was too conservative and should be closer to 1,000.

Thursday's deaths were especially shocking, however, because many assumed soldiers would never open fire on women.

"The killing is going on unabated," said Ouattara's Justice and Human Rights Minister Jeannot Kouadio Ahoussou in Geneva.

More than 200,000 people have fled Abobo, the local U.N. peacekeeping mission reported, after a week when Gbagbo's security forces entered the neighborhood and began shelling it with mortars.

The shocking escalation indicates the army is willing to use war-grade weapons on its citizens. Ouattara's camp has also stepped up its resistance, led by rebels from the north and soldiers defecting from Gbagbo's army.

Thursday's attack prompted an immediate rebuke from the U.S., which like most governments has urged Gbagbo to step down and has recognized his rival as the country's legitimate president.

"The moral bankruptcy of Laurent Gbagbo is evident as his security forces killed women protesters," said U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley in a Twitter message.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council said it is "deeply concerned" about the escalation of violence in Ivory Coast and that it could lead to a resurgence of civil war there.

The European Union's top diplomat Catherine Ashton called for Gbagbo to cease all violence and cede power to Ouattara.

Fighting also has broken out in the west, where several battles have taken place between rebels allied to Ouattara and regular army soldiers loyal to Gbagbo. The U.N. refugee body announced Friday that it would be suspending its activities in the west due to the security concerns.

"We will continue our work in Abidjan and elsewhere," said UNHCR protection officer Monique Sokhan.

Hopes linger for a negotiated solution, even after a high-level African Union panel of five presidents extended its timeline for mediation by a month.

After a meeting in Mauritania on Friday, the panel announced that it would return again to Abidjan, Ivory Coast's biggest city, to meet both leaders.

Previous attempts to mediate have fallen flat after Gbagbo rejected offers of amnesty, exile and teaching positions in the United States.

U.N. certified election results show that Gbagbo lost last November's election by almost 9 percent. He refused to recognize those results, instead accusing the U.N. of meddling in state affairs and ordering the U.N. to leave the country.


Associated Press writers Rukmini Callimachi in Abidjan, Ivory Coast; John Heilprin in Geneva; Ahmed Mohamed in Nouakchott, Mauritania; and Anita Snow at the United Nations contributed to this report.

1 comment:

  1. All over the world where dictatorial governments rule the people are coming to grip with the fact that they hold the power. Since the dictator in Egypt was run out of office by the people, many of these countries are trying the same thing.First Egypt then Libya and who knows who is next?