Explosion Of Violence Hits Ivory Coast Capital

In the West African nation of Ivory Coast, forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo shot dead several women protesting his rule. Gbagbo is Ivory Coast's incumbent president who refuses to concede defeat to his challenger in November elections. The battle for power there has become increasingly violent.

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An explosion of violence is deepening the crisis in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. For months, now, there has been a political fight over who is president. Now it threatens to erupt into a civil war.

The worst of the bloodshed is taking place in the commercial capital, Abidjan, as we hear now from NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Fighting between forces loyal to Ivory Coast disputed incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo, and his presidential rival, Alassane Ouattara, has intensified in recent days. But what has most shocked Ivorians is the killing of women in Abidjan's Abobo suburb yesterday.

Ouattara, who's confined to a hotel, protected by U.N. peacekeepers, is internationally recognized as the winner of November's election. But Gbagbo refuses to concede. Thousands of women have gathered for a march for peace, calling on Gbagbo to step down. This woman described to the BBC what happened next. She was too frightened to give her name.

Unidentified Woman: (Through translator) As I was speaking to the crowd, we heard young girls shouting, tanks are coming, tanks are coming. We turned our heads towards where the girls were pointing and, indeed, tanks were rolling our way. And those who were in the tanks started shooting at us. We were machine gunned, we were slaughtered.

Eight women, including a pregnant woman were killed on the spot. During the shooting, a bullet blew the head of one of the victims. It was the first time I had seen someone's brains out. As for the pregnant woman, her belly had literally exploded.

QUIST-ARCTON: The killing of the women marks a new low in Ivory Coast. It's unusual for them to be targeted and fired upon. Most clashes to date have involved young supporters of Gbagbo and Ouattara or their rival security forces.

The U.N. Security Council has told U.N. peacekeepers to use all necessary means to protect civilians. But Ouattara's newly appointed U.N. ambassador, Youssoufou Bamba, says the world should be more concerned as it is with Libya.

Ambassador YOUSSOUFOU BAMBA (United Nations): We don't want any differentiation in the judgment of this crisis. There is something - there were some civilians who were killed (unintelligible). They are using war weapon to kill peaceful civilian. So (unintelligible) of international community to protect the civilians.

QUIST-ARCTON: The U.N. reports that 200,000 people have fled fighting in more than a week of violence in Abidjan's Abobo neighborhood. In the more than three months since the disputed presidential vote, almost 400 people have been killed, mainly Ouattara supporters. Add to that a crippled economy in the world's top cocoa exporter, where most banks have closed and the price of food has shot up.

Water and electricity have been cut off to Ivory Coast north, which is controlled by Ouattara supporters. Wan Murukone(ph) lives in Wakay(ph), the main city and gateway to the north. He says life there is tough.

Mr. WAN MURUKONE: It's incredible what we are living. Since Monday, no light, no electricity, no money. It is desperation. Think of the people who are at the hospital, people who have to be operated on. So those politicians, they should all go to hell. That's what they deserve.

QUIST-ARCTON: The African Union has asked five presidents to find a peaceful settlement to the Ivorian crisis that it says all sides must respect. The heads of state had until Monday to come up with a binding agreement, but their mandate has been extended until the end of March.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Akra.

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