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Police Disrupt Ouattara Gathering in Ivory Coast

UN peacekeepers drive past supporters of Alassane Ouattara as they demonstrate and burn tires in the Abobo neighbourhood in Abidjan, February 19, 2011

Ivorian security forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo have disrupted a gathering of protesters backing his rival, Alassane Ouattara.

Witnesses say police fired bullets into the air and used tear gas Saturday in Abidjan to disperse supporters of Mr. Ouattara, who most countries recognize as the winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election in November.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Mr. Gbagbo's refusal to accept international demands to step down and cede power to Mr. Ouattara has led to a political and economic crisis in Ivory Coast.

Tensions have risen in recent days with the closing of Ivory Coast branches of several international banks.

On Thursday, Mr. Gbagbo's administration seized control of the capital of two French banks that suspended operations, Societe Generale and BNP Paribas. France condemned Mr. Gbagbo's plan to nationalize the banks.

Ivory Coast's banking system has become paralyzed because of moves aimed at forcing Mr. Gbagbo to step down. Banks have cited liquidity and security problems.

On Sunday, African Union heads of state will meet in Mauritania to discuss ways of resolving the Ivory Coast crisis. Taking part in the meetings will be the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, South Africa and Tanzania.

The five heads of state are due to travel to Ivory Coast Monday to meet with Mr. Gbagbo and Mr. Ouattara.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.