ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Security forces loyal to the man clinging to power in Ivory Coast fatally shot six women protesting his refusal to leave office Thursday, as the U.N. said more than 200,000 people have fled the intensified fighting.
The demonstrators were cut down by machine gunfire in Abobo, the suburb that has been the scene of the bloodiest clashes in the three-month-long-crisis.
Mohamed Dosso, an assistant to the mayor of Abobo, said an armored personnel carrier and several pickups showed up as the women were protesting and shot them. One of the women had was "torn to pieces" by the barrage of fire.
"We could never imagine that they could open fire on women," said Dosso, who saw the women's bodies.
The three-month old conflict in Ivory Coast has entered a new level of intensity and with each passing day the regime of Laurent Gbagbo is proving it is willing to go to any length to stay in office following a contested election that international observers say he lost to Alassane Ouattara.
Nearly 400 people have been killed, almost all of them men who had voted for Ouattara, according to a tally of figures provided by the U.N. and combined with deaths confirmed by The Associated Press.
Last week Gbagbo's security forces entered the neighborhood of Abobo and began shelling it with mortars, a shocking escalation from a conflict mainly fought with guns to one fought with war-grade weapons.
Families carrying suitcases on their heads could be seen leaving the district in a massive exodus. At least 200,000 people have fled the suburb, said Guillaume Nguefa of the human rights division of the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast during a Thursday press conference.
Multiple delegations of African leaders have come through Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial hub, in an attempt to persuade Gbagbo to leave office. Gbagbo has rejected all their proposals and offers of amnesty, including the United States' offer of a professorship at a Boston university.
Associated Press writer Marco Chown Oved contributed to this report.