Ivory coast civil war
© Reuters/Luc Gnago
Police on patrol in armoured vehicles pass people walking on a road in Abobo in Abidjan January 11, 2011. At least five people were killed in clashes between supporters of Ivory Coast's presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara and forces loyal to incumbent Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan on Tuesday.
Security forces loyal to Ivory Coast's incumbent leader, who refuses to cede power, on Tuesday fired volleys of gunshots, leaving at least four people dead after they cordoned off a large section of a neighborhood known to be his rival's stronghold.

United Nations peacekeepers arriving in a convoy of 13 vehicles were forced by a mob to make a U-turn as they attempted to enter the area. Young men allied with incumbent Laurent Gbagbo amassed on the highway, wielding sticks and throwing large objects in their path.

PK 18, where the early morning raid occurred, is part of Abobo, an Abidjan district that supported Alassane Ouattara, who won the Nov. 28 election with a margin of over half a million votes, according to results verified by the United Nations.

He has been recognized as the president-elect by the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the United States, but international pressure has not been able to dislodge the 65-year-old Gbagbo. He accuses the U.N. of bias after it endorsed Ouattara's victory and is refusing to leave office. He is backed by the army as well as a militant youth group that has been organizing daily rallies - including one planned for Tuesday near PK 18 - to warn the international community against interfering in Ivory Coast.

Residents and the mayor of the area say police awoke them between 4 and 5 a.m. and began conducting house-to-house searches accusing them of hiding arms. A 39-year-old mother of five said the soldiers burst in and told her and her children to lie down on the floor. One of them placed his boot on Habiba Traore's back, as the others opened her suitcase and went through her belongings. They made off with cash as well as her husband's pants and two shirts, she said.

Shots rang out for several hours and journalists were blocked from entering by police trucks that had been lined up to create a fence across the highway leading to PK 18. Reporters able to enter the area after calm returned found four bodies lying on the ground, all dressed in civilian clothes. One was lying in a sandy alley, his arm flung back. There was a hole in his neck, where the bullet had gone through.

Another man had been placed under a sheet and the blood had seeped through, attracting a blanket of flies.

"Our neighborhood is in their crosshairs ever since the march," said Issouf Ouraga, referring to a march last month in which Ouattara supporters attempted to grab control of the state TV station, which since the election has been used to air pro-Gbagbo propaganda. "We are a target."

Residents say they retaliated by killing two policemen, said Marco Boubacar, who heads the local unit of the New Forces, a rebel group allied with Ouattara. The deaths could not immediately be confirmed, and calls to a government spokesman went unanswered.

When the United Nations attempted to reach the area, their convoy including two large armored personnel carriers got only as far as the roundabout of Abobo, about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) from the affected area.

Human rights groups have criticized the U.N. for bowing to Gbagbo's security forces and allowing abuses to occur under their watch. The head of the U.N. human rights section in the country received reports of two mass graves containing as many as 80 bodies of people shot or killed after the election, but his convoy was turned back at gunpoint when he tried to enter one of the sites in a suburb of Abidjan.

State TV has shown footage of U.N. convoys stopped in front of crowds, or made to turn around, reasserting an image of U.N. powerlessness.

Last month, a bloc of neighboring nations began mulling a military ouster to force Gbagbo out. In recent days as the threat of military action has become more real, a militant youth group allied with Gbagbo began leading daily rallies to warn the international community against interfering in Ivory Coast.

The U.N. was invited to observe the election and to certify the results following a 2005 peace deal signed by all political parties after a civil war. The certification was intended to create an independent mechanism to ascertain the winner. Gbagbo signed the accord, but has since discounted the international body's findings and has called on the 9,000-strong peacekeeping mission to leave the country.

After three high-level delegations of African leaders failed to persuade Gbagbo to cede power, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States last month warned they were considering an armed intervention.

The move is controversial, though, because Ivory Coast has been a magnet for immigrants from other African nations including Nigeria, where troops would likely come from. And the Gbagbo regime has insinuated that any military action would lead to reprisal attacks against immigrants from the countries sending soldiers.

Experts say the risk of a return to civil war is real because Gbagbo is backed by the hardline Young Patriots, a group led by Charles Ble Goude, who was placed on a 2006 United Nations sanctions list for his role in inciting violence.

Goude has been leading rallies almost every day - including one planned for Tuesday, but which was canceled just before it was to start because of tension in Abobo. He has warned there will be no peace if Gbagbo is forced out.

"They shouldn't kid themselves and imagine that they can come and remove him ... Because in every Ivorian there is a Gbagbo," Goude told The Associated Press in a Monday interview. "Do they want to govern an Ivory Coast cemetery?"

Already at least 25,000 civilians have crossed the border into neighboring Liberia in anticipation of possible clashes.

Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva that 600 more are arriving in Liberia daily and are being housed in a teeming refugee camp.