Troops loyal to Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo fought a fierce gun battle in Abidjan on Thursday with supporters of Alassane Ouattara, as explosions were heard around his rival’s headquarters.
Gunfire was exchanged at midday between the soldiers and former rebel fighters from the pro-Ouattara New Forces.
Shooting broke out as pro-Ouattara demonstrators were leaving his hotel base to head to the state television station. The neighbourhood around the Golf Hotel is controlled by troops from Ivory Coast's pro-Gbagbo security forces, who also set up a cordon of armoured cars around the offices of the television broadcaster.
Elsewhere in the city, pro-Ouattara demonstrators clashed with police while the city’s streets were deserted of normal traffic and businesses closed amid fears of more violence.
Both Ouattara and Gbagbo claim to have won last month's presidential election and have declared themselves President. While Ouattara is recognised by the international community, the incumbent Gbagbo still controls the military.
Following calls from the Ouattara camp for supporters to take to the streets in a bid to seize control of the state-run airwaves, stone-throwing protestors clashed with police and soldiers in several districts across the capital.
Journalists for Associated Press and Reuters reported seeing at least four dead demonstrators following the outbreak of gunfire.
In the northern suburb of Abobo, police fired teargas as they dispersed marchers with at least three protesters left lying motionless in the street, the extent of their injuries unconfirmed.
France and the United Nations have both called for restraint and warned of the dangers of a return to violence.
"The situation is taking a worrying turn with unfolding events that could lead to widespread violence," United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned on Wednesday.
After two weeks of stalemate and rhetoric from both sides, Ouattara’s candidate for Prime minister, former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, has called on supporters to occupy government buildings. From there he aims to push on Friday and seize the well-defended government headquarters complex in the central Plateau district of Abidjan, eject Gbagbo's ministers and hold a cabinet meeting of his own.
The army and Gbagbo's hardliners youth supporters - the "Young Patriots" movement, led by Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude, who has been sanctioned by the UN for leading mob violence in 2004 - have vowed to resist any such attempts to unseat them.