COTE D'IVOIRE: Uneasy calm after wave of protests
Youths in Odienné, northern Côte d'Ivoire, protesting the decision of President Laurent Gbagbo to dissolve government and the electoral commission
ABIDJAN, 22 February 2010 (IRIN) - An uneasy calm has been restored in cities across Côte d’Ivoire following fresh protests over the past few days, according to aid workers.
The latest protests in the central-western city of Gagnoa left five dead and a dozen injured on 19 February. In the rebel-stronghold of Bouaké in central Côte d’Ivoire protesters set fire to cars, smashed up shops and looted a government office on 20 February, according to the defence minister.
Angry protests have affected Korhogo in the rebel-held north, Divo in the southwest, Man in the far west, Toumodi in the centre of the country, as well as the commercial capital Abidjan.
"The situation has become so alarming so quickly,” Abidjan-based teacher Patricia Konan told IRIN. “We have reached the stage where there is a large risk of wider conflict, with each further protest just adding more fuel to the fire.”
Teachers and children across Abidjan are too scared to turn up to school, she said.
Alfred Kobenan, an Abidjan-based government tax collector, witnessed the violence in Kumasi, a district in southeast Abidjan. “The demonstrators burned everything in their path and many I saw looted anything they could find. We can no longer go to work because we are too scared.”
The demonstrations followed President Laurent Gbagbo's dissolution of the government and electoral commission on 12 February, delaying long-awaited presidential elections
that had been set for March 2010 after six delays since 2005.
In mid-January Gbagbo accused electoral commission head and opposition party member Robert Mambe of adding more than 400,000 names to the voter register. The president said their Ivoirian identity had not been cross-checked.
Because of the draw of cocoa production, much of the population has roots in neighbouring states and the question of national identity, or “ivoirité”. Around 2,000 politicians cynically fomented xenophobia for their own ends. The issue helped bring on the civil war that broke out in 2002 and continues to fuel inter-communal tensions over land rights
Prime Minister Guillaume Soro will announce the make-up of the new Ivoirian government on 22 February, according to a statement. A group representing Côte d’Ivoire’s leading opposition parties, Rally of Houphouétistes for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), are insisting they be included in the new government.
“We have asked the militants to confront the dictatorship that has been established in our country. Gbagbo’s decision to dissolve the independent electoral commission and the government is unacceptable, and we have already said we will no longer recognize him as head of state,” RHDP spokesperson Alphonse Djedje Mady said in a 20 February communiqué.
Protests have taken place amid deteriorating living conditions
country-wide, with unemployment rates at 70 percent; chronic malnutrition at 40 percent in the north; and a series of power cuts across the country.
The number of people living on less than US$1.25 a day
has risen from 10 percent in 1985 to 49 percent in 2008, according to the World Bank.