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Mob storms gay-rights office in Ivory Coast

Nearly 200 people attack Alternative Cote d'Ivoire, ransacking office and making off with computers, says official.

Last updated: 27 Jan 2014 20:33
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Ivory Coast is generally considered a safe haven for homosexuals fleeing persecution elsewhere [EPA]

An angry mob has stormed the headquarters of Ivory Coast's most prominent gay-rights organisation, ransacking it and pelting office windows with stones, an official has said.

Claver Toure, the group's executive director, said nearly 200 people on Saturday stormed the offices of Alternative Cote d'Ivoire in Abidjan, the commercial capital, and made off with computers.

The attack happened in a West African nation generally viewed as moderate and sometimes considered a safe haven for homosexuals fleeing persecution elsewhere.

The Associated Press news agency said the raid, which followed many days of anti-gay protests, underscored the dangers facing gay-rights movements in Africa even in the few countries where homosexual acts are not illegal.

Others heaved sacks of garbage over the property's exterior walls and scattered trash and broken glass at the entrance, according to the AP.

Signs hung on walls demanded "Stop the homos!" and "Pedes get out!" "Pede" is short for pedophile and commonly used in West Africa to insult gay men.

"Everything they could take was taken, and the rest was broken," Toure said, adding that a private security guard was taken to hospital after sustainingwounds to his face.

'Shocked and saddened'

US Ambassador Terence P McCulley said he was "shocked and saddened" by the attack, in a statement posted on Monday to the embassy's Facebook page.

"Even if one is not in agreement with the point of view of an organization or its people, we have an obligation in a democracy to support the right of people to organise and express themselves," he said.

"I hope that Ivorians will understand that these attacks are not consonant with democratic values."

Toure criticised what he described as a deliberately slow response by security forces, saying police did not arrive until the French ambassador contacted government officials. Ultimately, he said, about 10 officers came with a half dozen UN peacekeepers.

Interior Minister spokesman Bazoumana Coulibaly said the government was not prepared to comment because it was still collecting information.

In a statement on Friday, the Ireland-based human rights organisation Front Line Defenders detailed what it described as "coordinated" attacks against Toure's group last week.

It had warned that "rumors are circulating that a more virulent attack is envisioned" for Saturday.

The Ivory Coast attacks come amid an increasingly hostile environment for sexual minorities in Africa, most notably in Nigeria, where President Goodluck Jonathan earlier this month signed a law banning gay associations and gay marriage.

Dozens have been arrested recently throughout Nigeria since then.

In the northern city of Bauchi, protesters tried to attack seven men accused of belonging to a gay organization, demanding they be stoned to death.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has voiced opposition to a bill approved by lawmakers last month calling for life imprisonment for some cases of homosexuality, though parliament still could muster enough support to make it law.

Ivory Coast is generally seen as more moderate on the issue, and Alternative has worked increasingly closely with the government on programs to combat HIV/AIDS.

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