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Ivory Coast opposition calls for massive protests

By on February 14, 2010

Ivory Coast’s opposition called on Saturday for youths to take to streets and burn tyres after President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved his government and the electoral commission because of a row over voter registration.

Residents of Ivory Coast’s main city Abidjan feared more violence and political turmoil in West Africa’s volatile former economic powerhouse.

“Youths of Ivory Coast, wake up! We ask you to descend on the streets and burn tyres to show your dissatisfaction. You have to act now,” said Konan Bertin, youth leader for opposition candidate Henri Konan Bedie’s Ivory Coast Democratic Party.

“We must occupy the streets of Abidjan and the country, in presence of the police and army,” he told a few hundred cheering youths.

Gbagbo’s announcement on Friday night is certain to delay a post-war election that is already over four years overdue.

The elections are needed to end years of instability and stalemate after a 2002-2003 war that divided the world’s top cocoa grower, leaving the north in rebel hands.

Abidjan residents had rushed indoors after work on Friday, anticipating trouble. The normally bustling streets and palm-fringed outdoor bars were largely deserted overnight.

Traffic resumed on Saturday, but the atmosphere was tense.

“I’m really scared,” said Arsene Yao, 30, a mechanic.

“There’s going to be more violence and everything’s going to burn. I can’t imagine what the president was thinking.”

Rioters burned down a government building in rebel-held west Ivory Coast on Tuesday over the handling of the polls.

Nothing in a peace agreement signed in 2007 gives Gbagbo the authority to dissolve the electoral commission, which is independent of all the warring factions. In his address, he invoked an article of the constitution to justify it.

Two newspapers, one opposition and another independent, ran headlines accusing Gbagbo of staging a coup d’etat.


Gbagbo has accused electoral commission boss Robert Mambe, an opposition party member, of attempting to add to the voter register 429,000 names which had not had their Ivorian identity cross-checked, in order to boost the opposition vote.

Opposition parties say Gbagbo is inventing obstacles to stall an election he fears he might lose.

After years of delays, many Ivorians have grown cynical about their leaders and their talk of elections.

“If they were going to have elections, they’d have had them already,” said Rosie N’Goran, 28, who sells fruit by the roadside despite her college degree.

“I no longer trust any of them at all,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and throwing up her hands.

Prime Minister Guillaume Soro must pick a new government on Monday but the process of choosing an electoral commission boss could be long and drawn out, as all parties to the conflict are supposed to agree on him.

Frustration is growing after more than seven years of crisis in a country that was once the envy of its neighbours, prospering while many of them stagnated or went to war.

Power cuts nationwide because of damage to a turbine have worsened the mood. Ivory Coast has long been an exporter of power to its neighbours and shortages, unlike in other parts of Africa, are so infrequent that few people have generators.

“We’re tired of waiting for peace,” said gardener Siaka Karambiri, sweating in the humidity after hacking some dead branches off a palm tree. “We pray they can get together and sort this out.”


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