African presidents charged with resolving Ivory Coast's crisis arrived in Abidjan on Monday as Ivorian troops opened fire to disperse protesters calling for Laurent Gbagbo to step down as leader.
A conflict over a disputed November election has paralysed the world's top cocoa-growing state and killed some 300 people.
A source who had access to preparatory talks on Sunday said the African panel would insist that Gbagbo stand down, in return for a number of guarantees, to allow rival Alassane Ouattara to take charge after, according to U.N.-certified results, winning the Nov. 28 election in the west African country.
There was no statement from the leaders. Gbagbo has repeatedly rejected similar proposals.
The election, meant to reunite the country after a decade of economic stagnation and political crisis, has instead left it as divided as ever and in economic meltdown. Ouattara is widely recognised as the winner, but Gbagbo has refused to cede power.
Cocoa exports have dried up, pushing futures prices to fresh highs. International banks have shut down operations.
Ouattara's government has called for a "revolution" to oust Gbagbo. But attempts to demonstrate over the weekend were crushed by pro-Gbagbo forces, who witnesses said killed at least five people when they opened fire on attempted gatherings.
In downtown Abidjan and the pro-Ouattara neighbourhoods of Koumassi and Abobo on Monday, residents reported gunfire all morning as soldiers and paramilitaries broke up attempted demonstrations, killing at least one person.
"Youths were gathering but the armed forces started firing on the crowd. One man was killed in front of a hotel," said Sebastian Koliabo, an official at the mayor's office of Treichville, in downtown Abidjan, who witnessed the events.
"No going back for AU"
The leaders of South Africa, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso and Tanzania met in Mauritania on Sunday to discuss proposals drafted by African Union experts on Ivory Coast.
"We could not go back on the previous decision made by the AU commission (which has recognised Ouattara as winner of the election)," said the source, who asked not to be named.
"It was considered that the two candidates could not co-exist, so a transfer of power with guarantees to the losing party was favoured ... The high-level panel agreed on the path to be chosen but there are still many details to work out."
By 1300 GMT, South Africa's Jacob Zuma, Chad's Idriss Deby, Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete had landed at Abidjan airport.
Ouattara and Gbagbo have formed rival parallel governments, though Ouattara remains restricted to a lagoon-side hotel protected by a ring of U.N. peacekeepers.
Citing the "rapid deterioration of the financial sector", SIB, which is part of the Moroccan Attijariwafa Group, on Monday became the latest international bank to suspend operations in the country on Monday.
Nearly all other international banks have closed up shop and Gbagbo, who remains in power with the backing of the military despite international sanctions, had pledged to reopen on Monday two French banks nationalised last week.
But finance ministry sources said Gbagbo officials were due to meet with pro-Gbagbo staff in the Ivorian branches of Societe Generale and BNP Paribas, with a view to re-opening them as nationalised banks on Tuesday.
Officials in Burkina Faso said President Blaise Compaore would not join the other four in Abidjan, giving no reason.
Gbagbo's supporters have protested against Compaore's inclusion on the AU panel. They say the president, accused of backing rebels who seized the north during the war before he became mediator in the crisis, is biased in favour of Ouattara.
Last Mod: 21 Şubat 2011, 15:54