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Ivorian security forces lead deadly raid on opposition party

An activist was killed Tuesday in Ivory Coast when security forces loyal to incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo raided the headquarters of an opposition party that supports Gbagbo's rival.

Laurent Gbagbo

Gbagbo earlier said he was willing to negotiate

Ivory Coast's political instability turned violent again Tuesday, with at least one person left dead after Ivorian security forces raided the headquarters of an opposition party.

Dozens were arrested in an offensive conducted by security forces loyal to incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo against the Ivory Coast Democratic Party (PDCI). The PDCI recognizes Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Outtara, as the winner of the disputed November election.

The UN's head of human rights for Ivory Coast, Simon Munzu, said he and his staff were barred from entering the PDCI's building hours after the shootout, which began around 5:30 am.

Police say they conducted the raid on word that "people were unloading weapons at PDCI headquarters" and that several weapons were confiscated. PDCI member and retired general Gaston Ouassenan Kone denied this claim, insisting that there no weapons at the party headquarters.

UN troops and vehicles

The UN head for human rights in Ivory Coast said he was barred from entering PDCI headquarters

Blockade lift

Meanwhile Tuesday, in what may have been the first indication of a tentative breakthrough to resolve the country's political crisis, Gbagbo reportedly agreed to lift a blockade around the headquarters of his rival Alassane Ouattara.

Mediators belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said that Gbagbo was also willing to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

ECOWAS and African Union mediators issued a statement after a meeting with the two rivals saying that "Laurent Gbagbo agreed to negotiate a peaceful end to the crisis without any preconditions."

However, he gave no indication that he would be willing to step down as demanded by the international community, which sees Ouattara as the winner of the disputed November presidential election.

Deal not viable, US says

The United States has weighed into the debate following the talks, insisting it would not accept a power-sharing solution to the standoff, according to news agency Agence-France Presse.

"The results of the election were clear," said US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley. "For the future of democracy in [Ivory Coast] and West Africa, [Gbagbo] should step down."

Crowley said any considerations involving Gbagbo would have to "take into account" allegations of post-election violence in the country.

Earlier, Nigerian President and ECOWAS leader Goodluck Jonathan told reporters that the latest mediation efforts had produced no results.

UN forces patrol on a street in Abidjan

The UN has offered protection to Outtara, who has been holed up in a hotel

"There is still a stalemate," he said after a meeting with three ECOWAS envoys who held talks with Gbagbo and Ouattara on Monday.

The standoff between the two camps has so far claimed 179 lives and forced thousands to flee.

Peaceful resolution sought

Jonathan stressed that the crisis would take time to resolve.

"Don't expect that if there's a major crisis in a country that we just jump in...and the matter is resolved. It takes a lot of international pressure to convince people like that."

ECOWAS has threatened military action against Gbagbo if he refuses to voluntarily step down.

However, resorting to military force comes with the risk of triggering a fresh civil war in Ivory Coast. It also threatens to destabilize countries that send troops, including Nigeria, which would be in a position to send the largest troop contingent but is preparing for its own elections in April.

Author: Matt Zuvela, Rob Mudge, David Levitz (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: John Kluempers

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