Street protests in Ivory Coast against incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo have turned violent with at least four dead. Witnesses said heavy artillery fire has been heard near the base of president-elect Alassane Ouattara, who called for the street demonstrations.
The situation erupted Thursday in Abidjan as demonstrators prepared to march with the government of internationally-endorsed presidential election winner Ouattara to the state television headquarters to install a new station director.
Witnesses said security forces fired tear gas and used force to disperse Ouattara supporters in Abidjan neighborhoods. It also was reported that demonstrators had set up street barricades and were hurling stones at heavily-armed security forces.
Gbagbo has refused to cede power to Ouattara, who was recognized by the United Nations and much of the international community as the winner of last month's presidential poll.
United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern Wednesday that the political stand-off in Ivory Coast, now entering its third week, had taken a "worrying turn."
Spokesman, Martin Nesirky, delivered the U.N. chief's statement.
"The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all the Ivorian parties and their supporters to exercise patience and refrain from any actions that could, accidentally or deliberately, provoke violence. He stresses that in the currently charged political environment such actions could have unpredictable consequences, including reigniting civil war," said Nesirky. "The Secretary-General therefore reminds those who incite or perpetrate violence, and those who use the media for this purpose, that they will be held accountable for their actions."
The television station headquarters is heavily guarded by troops loyal to Gbagbo. There are fears that confrontations between protesters and security forces at the TV station could end in bloodshed. On state-television, a Gbagbo-backed military spokesman urged Ivorians not to participate in the march.
In addition to Thursday's march on the state television headquarters, Ouattara's prime minister, Guillaume Soro, said earlier this week that his government would seize control of state institutions and hold a Cabinet meeting Friday in the official prime minister's office.
Original electoral commission results said Ouattara won the November 28 run-off election with 54 percent of votes, but the constitutional court, which is led by a Gbagbo ally, annulled 10 percent of ballots as fraudulent and proclaimed Gbagbo the winner with 51 percent of votes.
Both men have set up rival governments and have the support of rival armed forces. Gbagbo continues to occupy government buildings under the protection of government troops, while Ouattara's government is based in an Abidjan hotel guarded by U.N. peacekeepers and former rebel fighters.
The European Union has approved financial and travel sanctions on Gbagbo and his allies if he continues to cling to power. ECOWAS and the African Union have suspended Ivory Coast, and countries like France and the United States continue to call on Gbagbo to resign.
Gbagbo has dismissed international support for Ouattara as foreign interference that threatens Ivory Coast's sovereignty.
The election was meant to reunite the country after a 2002-2003 civil war split it between a rebel-held north and a government-held south.
Witnesses said security forces shot and killed at least one person Wednesday during an anti-Gbagbo demonstration in the capital, Yamoussoukro. Amnesty International said security forces have killed more than 20 people since the November 28 presidential run-off.