Mortar bomb attack kills 25 in Ivory Coast

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The United Nations yesterday condemned a mortar attack on a market that killed at least 25 people in Ivory Coast and said it could be a crime against humanity.

The UN blamed forces loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to cede power after elections last November has sparked a growing political crisis. They said in a statement that Thursday's attack sent at least six mortar shells into an Abidjan neighbourhood. The UN said at least 40 people also were wounded.

Shells fell without warning on a market in front of the mayor's office in Abobo, a district held by fighters loyal to the internationally recognised president, Alassane Ouattara. At one market stall, an elderly woman lost both her legs, a witness said. Earlier in the day, pro-Ouattara fighters ambushed a police station in the Adjame district of Abidjan, though it was unclear whether anyone was killed.

Rights group Amnesty International condemned the attack. "To launch an attack of this kind that kills and injures a large number of people who are not posing an immediate threat is completely unacceptable," said Veronique Aubert, its Africa deputy director.

Abidjan, Ivory Coast's biggest city, has for weeks seen daily battles. Fighting was initially confined to pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods but has spread across the city, breaking out in different locations each day.

UN investigators were seen yesterday in Abobo. The violence has also drawn the interest of the Hague-based International Criminal Court, which is monitoring events closely. More than 400 people have died since the elections last November, and thousands have fled their homes as fighting rages in the troubled neighbourhoods.