- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 11, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast | 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.

U.N. 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 at least a half-million votes, according to results verified by the United Nations.

He has been recognized as the president-elect by the U.N., the European Union, the African Union and the United States, but international pressure has not been able to dislodge the 65-year-old Mr. Gbagbo.

The strongman accuses the U.N. of bias after it endorsed Mr. 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.

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 the gunfire found four bodies in civilian clothes on the ground. One man was lying in a sandy alley with an arm flung back. There was a bullet wound in his neck.

Another man had been placed under a sheet, but his blood had seeped through.

“Our neighborhood is in their cross hairs ever since the march,” said Issouf Ouraga, referring to a march last month in which Ouattara supporters tried 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 Mr. Ouattara. The deaths could not immediately be confirmed, and calls to a government spokesman went unanswered.

When the U.N. attempted to reach the area, their convoy including two large armored personnel carriers got only as far as Abobo, about a mile from the affected area.

Human-rights groups have criticized the U.N. for bowing to Mr. Gbagbo’s security forces and allowing abuses to occur.

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