Gbagbo youth riot in Cote d'Ivoire

Supporters of president Laurent Gbagbo attack foreign businesses and UN staff.

    The UN mission, while attempting to provide protection, has itself become a target for Gbagbo supporters [AFP]

    Youth supporters of Laurent Gbagbo, Cote d'Ivoire's embattled leader, rampaged through the business district of the capital Abidjan, pillaging shops owned by foreigners.

    Tuesday's violence followed a call on Friday by Ble Goude, the head of Gbagbo's youth wing, to resist what he called an insurgency seeking to depose Gbabgo and install rival Alassane Ouattara.

    Ouattara is widely regarded as the winner of a November 28 poll, according to UN-certified results and the international community.

    Gbagbo's Young Patriots have long been accused of xenophobic violence, including attacks against the country's
    French community in 2004, on its large Burkinabe and Malian communities, as well as northern Ivorians with cultural ties to them.

    Anti-foreigner sentiment is at the core of the troubles that have troubled Cote d'Ivoire for years and has worsened as most nations recognise Ouattara's win.

    Ouattara himself was twice barred from running in previous polls because his father is from Burkina Faso.

    Anti-foreigner sentiment

    "I don't understand what happened. The youths arrived ... and starting destroying the things in my shop. They looted
    everything and now I have nothing left," Senegalese shopkeeper Ismael Bah told a Reuters reporter.

    "What did I do? I'm not involved in politics," he added.

    Xenophobia often flares up at troubled times in the country. In 2002, after a failed coup attempt against Gbagbo by northern soldiers, thousands of Burkinabes and Malians went into hiding because of attacks by youth gangs or police.

    Youths loyal to Gbagbo also kidnapped two Ukranian mechanics working for the United Nations mission on Monday, but released them later in the afternoon, a UN spokesman told Reuters.

    The Young Patriots had set up roadblocks, were searching vehicles for suspected "rebels," and prevented the movements of UN staff, as violence surged between gunmen from rival camps this week.

    Gbagbo is furious with the UN mission for recognising Ouattara's victory over him.

    He has accused the international body of backing rebels trying to oust him - a charge UN officials denounce as a lie meant to discredit them.

    Security deteriorating

    The UN has said its investigators are trying to confirm if Gbagbo breached an arms embargo by importing helicopters from Belarus. They had to abandon their search after his forces fired at them on the weekend.

    UN staff have also been attacked and robbed by gangs, after repeated broadcasts on state television accusing them of backing pro-Ouattara rebels.

    Security in Cote d'Ivoire is deteriorating. Insurgents believed to back Ouattara now control of most of the northern Abidjan suburb of Abobo after clashes there.

    The UN's refugee agency (UNHCR), on Tuesday, expressed alarm about the dire conditions facing people trying to get out of the Abobo district following the violence.

    "There are reports of many dead bodies, buses burned and shops looted, and of young militiamen attacking people inside their homes," the agency said in a statement.

    One man, Jean Bleou, said Abobo was quickly becoming uninhabitable. Several dozen people have been killed over the past week in bloody clashes.

    "I saw at least seven bodies on my way out,'' he said. "We were fleeing the smell of the dead.''

    The UNHCR also reported more than 29,000 people have fled across the border to Liberia since fighting restarted in Cote d’Ivoire last week.  These refugees joined the 40,000 Ivorian refugees already there.

    In recent months, multiple delegations of African leaders have come through Abidjan in an attempt to persuade Gbagbo to leave office. But he has rejected all their proposals, including offers of amnesty and a comfortable exile abroad.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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