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Protesting women mown down by guns

Soldiers backing Ivory Coast's defiant leader mowed down women protesting at his refusal to leave power in a hail of gunfire, killing at least six and shocking a nation where women's marches have historically been used as a last resort against an unrestrained army.

Because the president's security force has shown almost no reserve in opening fire on unarmed civilians, the women organised the march in the nation's commercial capital, assuming soldiers would be too ashamed to open fire.

But at least six of the thousands of women demonstrating Thursday were killed on the spot, said Mohamed Dosso, an assistant to the mayor of Abobo who said he saw the bodies.

The three-month old conflict in Ivory Coast has entered a new level of intensity. With each passing day, the regime of Laurent Gbagbo is proving it is willing to go to any length to stay in office following an election that international observers say he lost.

Sirah Drane, 41, who helped organise the march, said she was holding the megaphone and preparing to address the large crowd that had gathered at a traffic circle in Abobo.

"That's when we saw the tanks," she said. "There were thousands of women. And we said to ourselves, 'they won't shoot at women'. I heard a boom. They started spraying us. I tried to run and fell down. The others trampled me. Opening fire on unarmed women? It's inconceivable."

In New York, the UN Security Council said it is "deeply concerned" about the escalation of violence in Ivory Coast and that it could lead to a resurgence of civil war there.

Nearly 400 people have been killed, including 32 in the last 24 hours, almost all of them men who had voted for opposition leader Alassane Ouattara, according to UN and other confirmed figures.

Last week, Gbagbo's security forces entered the Abobo neighbourhood and began shelling it with mortars, a shocking escalation indicating the army is willing to use war-grade weapons on its citizens.

Before that, the bodies seen by reporters had bullet wounds where the point of impact was marked by a single stain of blood. Since the escalation, the bodies seen by reporters have arrived at the morgue in body bags dripping with blood.

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