Rebecca Blackwell  /  AP
Women carry a banner reading 'Don't shoot' as they participate in a march 'of mourning' for all the victims of post-election violence, in the Treichville neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast on Tuesday. 
updated 3/8/2011 1:33:37 PM ET 2011-03-08T18:33:37

In an act of bold defiance, thousands of women converged Tuesday on the bloodstained pavement where seven of their sisters fell last week, even as the army backing this country's rogue leader killed four more civilians.

The brutal slayings last week occurred when soldiers in armored personnel carriers opened fire on a crowd of female demonstrators who were armed with nothing more than tree branches, symbolizing peace.

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The attack has further galvanized the international community against strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to yield power three months after being declared the loser of his country's election.

The women had tried to march everyday since the attack Thursday only to lose their nerve in the face of an army that has shown no restraint, including by breaking the long-standing code that has always protected women. They refused to be cowed on Tuesday, however, because it was International Women's Day.

Hours after several hundred women marched in Treichville, a downtown neighborhood, the army burst in and killed at least four civilians. Reporters saw the bodies of three men and one women on the blood-splattered floor of a clinic.

Thousands of other women demonstrating near the site of last week's killings in the Abobo district were protected by men who had formed a wall across the mouth of a freeway by lining cars end-to-end.

Mariam Bamba, 32, picked up a limp branch Tuesday next to one of the blood stains on pavement. "This leaf is all they were carrying," she said of the victims.

The seven women are just a fraction of the more than 400 people killed in the three months since this country's disputed election. Because they were unarmed women, their deaths have prompted international condemnation, including from the U.S. State Department which called Gbagbo "morally bankrupt."

Image: Rally in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Rebecca Blackwell  /  AP
Thousands of supporters of Alassane Ouattara take to the streets on International Women's Day with a rally protesting against violence in the Abobo district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast onTuesday.

A video obtained by The Associated Press shows the joyful crowd blowing whistles and waving branches moments before the women are mowed down.

When Sako Bamara arrived at the hospital last Thursday, his relatives told him not to lift the cloth covering his wife's body. At least not above the shoulders. "They wouldn't let me look at her face," he said. "So I had to identify her feet," he said. Then he broke down.

The video's grainy footage clearly shows that the 34-year-old had been decapitated. Her brother-in-law was the first to arrive and recognized her by the color of her T-shirt. Bones were protruding from her neck. Beyond there was nothing. The survivors brought wooden carts from the nearby market and used them to transport the dead to the hospital.

Bamara had encouraged her to go to the march, just as so many other husbands and fathers had. "That morning she asked my permission to go. I said, 'Be careful.' Since they are women, I thought they would never shoot."

At the hospital, the dead women were laid side by side, and at one point a mobile phone started ringing inside the pocket of one of the other lifeless women.

Bamara's brother lifted the cloth covering her body and retrieved it out of her pocket. On the other end was the dead girl's frantic father, Gnelle Gnon Ouattara, who could not reach his 21-year-old daughter Rokiya. He rushed to the hospital and saw his child, part of her neck sheared off by the large-caliber bullet.

"In Africa we say that it's the child that must bury the father," said Ouattara. "When it's the father that buries the child, something isn't right."

The women marching Tuesday wore T-shirts bearing the smiling portrait of 'ADO' — Alassane Dramane Ouattara, the democratically elected president who has been prevented from governing the country by Gbagbo. He has spent the first three months of his term inside a resort hotel under day-and-night United Nations protection, and was to leave the grounds for the first time Tuesday night at the invitation of the African Union.

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Both Ouattara and Gbagbo have been invited to travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to hear the verdict of the AU's Peace and Security Council, which was attempting to find a solution to the crisis. Ouattara has called on the international community to launch an armed intervention in order to oust Gbagbo, who appeared on state television last week to say that he is "hanging in there."

"I heard someone say that God has left Africa," said Yacouba Ouattara, a relative of one of the dead women. "No. It's Ivory Coast that God has left."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: On day for women, stark reminders of struggle

  1. Closed captioning of: On day for women, stark reminders of struggle

    >>> a stark reminder today of what hasn't changed. women are still far behind men when it comes to equality, not just there, but in much of the world, and it came into sharp focus, once again on this 100th anniversary of international women 's day. nbc 's anne thompson went to tahrir square today and reports on what happened there and beyond.

    >> reporter: in egypt 's tahrir square, today it's clear gender equality has a long way to go. a million woman march attracted only hundreds. the loudest voices, those of young men, telling the women to go home and stay home. on international women 's day, this man tries to convince these women their role is to clean and mop. one activist said it's time egypt 's majority population get equal rights .

    >> no discrimination on any basis. not on gender issues, not on religious issues.

    >> reporter: the women at this rally, want a role in reshaping egypt . basically they want a place at the table, a place despite the revolution has yet to be offered. there are no women on the committee to revise the constitution, and only one woman in the new cabinet. u.s. secretary of state hillary clinton today said women must have a significant voice.

    >> the women in egypt and tune tunisia and other nations have just as much right as the men to remake their government.

    >> reporter: the demand for equality heard around the world today as women continue to demonstrate against oppressive regime. in bahrain and the ivory coast , where soldiers opened fire and killed at least seven women protesters last week. they want what egypt has. a new government. and women here want respect.

    >> what's wrong with egyptian men. it's not acceptable because i'm wearing a dress, mini-skirt or tight jeans, you say bad words to women .

    >> reporter: a housekeeper raising three children with no support from her ex-husband says women are no longer afraid. after the revolution, everybody is bolder. as egypt 's women insist the nation's new freedom be there's as well. anne thompson , nbc news, cairo.

    >>> back in this country tonight, nbc news has been given

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