The stand-off between the internationally recognised leader of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara, and his recalcitrant opponent Laurent Gbagbo turned dangerously violent on Thursday threatening to reignite a six-year old civil war.
Ivory Coast’s political deadlock since disputed elections in November has not been peaceful – there have been riots, beatings, lynchings and killings – but with Ouattara supported by the New Forces rebels and Gbagbo by his army the real danger has been that the crisis might spread out of the political and civil arenas and into the military one.
On Thursday this happened for the first time, breaking a ceasefire signed between government and rebel forces in 2005.
“It changes the game,” said Hamadoun Toure, the United Nations spokesman in Ivory Coast. “Before it was clashes between police and protesters. Now if it's the beginning of fighting between two armed forces, it could have serious consequences for the country or even the region.”
The deadly clashes occurred in the west of the country. In the commercial capital Abidjan the situation also worsened causing residents of the pro-Ouattara neighbourhood of Abobo to flee with their possessions.
The UN estimates that hundreds of people have been killed since the elections which, it was hoped, would unify the troubled country, instead it looks as if the polls and Gbagbo’s refusal to give up power are tearing Ivory Coast apart.