Army opens fire on Ivory Coast protesters

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The Independent Online

At least one person was reportedly shot dead last night and dozens more were injured in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, after the junta leader Gen Robert Guei declared himself the winner of Sunday's presidential elections.

At least one person was reportedly shot dead last night and dozens more were injured in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, after the junta leader Gen Robert Guei declared himself the winner of Sunday's presidential elections.

But Gen Guei's main civilian challenger countered by claiming that the military had robbed him of victory as thousands of demonstrators converged on the presidential offices in theWest African city, prompting security forces to open fire on demonstrators who were heeding the call of the civilian presidential candidate, Laurent Gbagbo, to take to the streets.

"Guei is a thief. He had the choice between shame and death. He chose death,'' the marchers chanted defiantly.

The whereabouts of Gen Guei were not known last night, and despite the violent reprisals by the military in defence of strategic targets in the capital, observers said police officers appeared to be allowing the demonstrators a free rein.

After two days of tension, during which preliminary results indicated a victory for Mr Gbagbo, a 55-year-old veteran opposition politician, events unfolded rapidly.

First, the military declared that Gen Guei had won 52.7 per cent of the vote and dissolved the electoral commission. But Mr Gbagbo responded by claiming that he had won the poll and urged his followers to take to the streets in protest.

"I denounce the dissolution of the electoral commission," he said. "I urge all Ivorian patriots to take to the streets. From now on I am the head of state of Cÿte d'Ivoire.''

France, the former colonial power of the West African country, denounced the methods of the junta. "Early results indicated that Mr Gbagbo was in the lead. France condemns the unacceptable methods of the authorities and underlines the necessity for the independent electoral commission to be allowed to finish its work,'' said a spokesman for the French foreign ministry.

The violence came at the end of an inconclusive election, marked by a low turnout and bans on 14 of the 19 candidates.

The election, which was meant to usher in civilian rule after a military coup last December, was mostly boycotted by international observers, such as the European Union, who deemed it unfair.

Last night, supporters of Mr Gbagbo's Front Populaire Ivoirien (FPI) told journalists they were ready to stage a Belgrade-style popular putsch.

"He has chosen to go like [Yugoslav former president Slobodan] Milosevic. We will drive him from power within 24 hours," said one activist in a group marching towards the Akouedo barracks - scene of the mutiny that brought 59-year-old Gen Guei to power.

The military regime said Gen Guei had won 52.7 per cent of the vote and Mr Gbagbo, one of four civilian challengers, had scored 41 per cent. Mr Gbagbo's campaign team gave their candidate 62.8 per cent of votes cast against Gen Guei's 34.3 per cent.

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