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Clashes spread to Ivorian political capital

ABIDJAN, Feb 25 – Clashes between Ivory Coast security forces and supporters of would-be president Alassane Ouattara spread in the early hours to the political capital, Yamoussoukro, witnesses said Friday.

Patrols of the Defence and Security Forces (FDS) loyal to outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down after November elections, came under fire in the Dioulabougou district, and sustained shooting went on until 7:00 am (0700 GMT).

A local journalist told AFP that sporadic gunfire could still be heard later in the morning.

Ivory Coast has been gripped by increasing unrest since a presidential poll on November 28, which much of the international community acknowledges was won by opposition leader Ouattara, but Gbagbo has clung to power and has the support of the FDS.

There were no details of casualties in Yamoussoukro, but an FDS member said the city\’s military school of Zambakro had been placed on alert following the clashes.

The political capital founded by the "father of the nation", Felix Houphouët-Boigny (1960-1993), Yamoussoukro is headquarters of the COM-Theatre, the FDS\’s operations centre.

Clashes also broke out Friday in a pro-Gbagbo neighbourhood of the economic capital Abidjan, where youths battled Ouattara supporters who burned a bus, residents said.

Youths of the pro-Gbagbo Young Patriot movement reacted in the Yopougon district by burning several "gbakas", minibuses used for public transport and held to be run by Ouattara supporters.

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Small groups of Young Patriots armed with clubs and stones prevented the minibuses from moving in an area that became practically deserted, and most of the shops were closed, an AFP journalist saw.

Meanwhile Friday, thousands of people were leaving the Abobo district of Abidjan, which has in recent days seen violent clashes between forces loyal to Gbagbo and an armed militia.

"I\’ve come from PK-18," a sector at the heart of the clashes, said a retired man. "I\’m going to join my family. We can\’t take any more. There are bodies everywhere."

Abobo is a pro-Ouattara neighbourhood.

"We can\’t stay there. The children are crying," said a mother who was taking her family to join relatives in the Port-Bouet district in the south "for at least two or three days."

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