Nairobi, March 9 (DPA) Four people protesting against the rule of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo were shot dead in the economic capital Abidjan as the West African nation’s political standoff turns increasingly violent.
Ivory Coast was plunged into crisis when Gbagbo refused to cede power to his rival Alassane Ouattara after November elections the UN says the president lost.
Witnesses said pro-Gbagbo forces opened fire in the area of Treichville Tuesday after a march protesting the killing of six unarmed women Thursday during a similar protest.
The UN says more than 365 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled unrest prompted by the standoff between the two men.
The escalation in violence has prompted the UN and other observers to warn Ivory Coast is heading back to the 2002 civil war, which divided the country into the rebel, mainly Muslim north and Christian south.
On Monday, the northern rebel group New Forces said it had seized control of a third town in the west of the country after fierce battles with pro-Gbagbo forces.
Ouattara is due to attend an African Union meeting on Ivory Coast in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa Thursday, although he is currently blockaded into an Abidjan hotel by security forces.
Gbagbo is not expected to attend the meeting.
International sanctions and African Union mediation efforts have failed to budge Gbagbo, who Monday said he was taking control of the nation’s cocoa industry.
Ouattara in January asked cocoa traders to stop exporting in an attempt to choke off profits to Gbagbo and prevent him paying his supporters.
Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of the bean used in chocolate, accounting for around 40 percent of global supplies. Cocoa prices have surged as a result.