Côte d'Ivoire: Further bloodshed as women march to denounce Laurent Gbagbo as an assassin & thief
London ~ Wednesday 9 March 2011
Ivory Coast marches on International Women's Day end in bloodshed
Army kills three men and one woman as thousands of women protest against Laurent Gbagbo holding onto power David Smith in Abidjan
Anti-Gbagbo protesters on International Women's Day in Treichville, Abidjan. (Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters)
Marches by thousands of women in protest at Ivory Coast's president Laurent Gbagbo have ended in bloodshed after his army killed four people.
The women made their stand on International Women's Day, less than a week after Gbagbo's soldiers killed seven women at a peaceful demonstration, earning worldwide condemnation.
After a small women's march in the Treichville neighbourhood, one of several in Abidjan on Tuesday, security forces burst into the area and began shooting.
The bodies of three men and one woman were seen by an Associated Press photographer inside a clinic where they were taken for treatment. The overwhelmed clinic had nowhere to put them except on the floor where the blood of the dead pooled together.
Thousands of women continued to gather in the besieged suburb of Abobo, where the seven women had been killed, some shouting "Gbagbo, assassin! Gbagbo, power thief! Leave!" Some were in traditional dress, others wore T-shirts printed with the face of Gbagbo's rival Alassane Ouattara.
The women were surrounded by pro-Ouattara youths with AK-47 rifles to prevent a repeat of last week's violence.
Among the marchers was Gervais Bredou, who said: "The women were reluctant after what happened last week. A pickup arrived with some pro-Gbagbo forces who fired warning shots into the air. Most of the women were afraid and started to run."
One female protester, Mariam Bamba, 32, picked up a tree branch next to one of the blood stains on the pavement where the women had been shot. "This leaf is all that they were carrying when they were killed," she said.
Kadhi M'daw, who led around 1,000 women through the pro-Ouattara stronghold of Koumassi, told Reuters: "We started with a Muslim prayer for peace, then a Christian one. We didn't see any security forces. There was no violence. We are very happy to be able to demonstrate."
But in Port Bouet, near Abidjan's airport, witnesses said around 50 pro-Gbagbo youths armed with AK-47s and machetes arrived to disperse the 200 women who tried to march there.
Gbagbo has refused to cede power even though the country's election commission declared opposition leader Ouattara the winner of last November's vote. Nearly 400 people have already been killed, most of them civilians who voted for Ouattara.
Aid agencies said an estimated 450,000 people have been uprooted by the growing conflict, including tens of thousands who fled to Liberia. In Abidjan some 300,000 people are displaced, mainly because of fighting between rival forces in the Abobo district, according to the UN.
Jemini Pandya, spokeswoman of the International Organisation for Migration, said: "Displacement from the Cote d'Ivoire crisis has reached alarming proportions."
Abobo is now largely controlled by insurgents calling themselves the "invisible commandos" and professing loyalty to Ouattara, after a week of gun battles in which they pushed out police and military loyal to Gbagbo. Fighting has also raged in the country's west with rebels taking three towns from Gbago's army.
Both Ouattara and Gbagbo have been invited to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Thursday to hear the verdict of the African Union's peace and security council, which was attempting to find a solution that will avert civil war. Ouattara is expected to attend but sources suggested that Gbagbo will send one of his ministers.
Ouattara has called on the international community to launch an armed intervention against Gbagbo, who appeared on state television last week to say that he is "hanging in there."
Meanwhile, as economic pressure intensifies, Gbagbo has issued a decree under which the state becomes the sole purchaser of cocoa and handles its export to world markets. Ivory Coast is the world's top cocoa producer and the move has been widely criticised.
US state department spokesman, PJ Crowley, said: "His plan to nationalise the cocoa industry of Côte d'Ivoire, which is the world's largest suppler of cocoa beans, amounts to theft. It is another desperate act in his campaign to cling to power."
Cocoa prices have broken 30-year highs since the disputed election. Kwame Banson, west African co-ordinator of Fairtrade Africa, said: "The uncertainty following Gbagbo's move is concerning. At this stage, we don't know what nationalising cocoa production means for Côte d'Ivoire farmers who are in danger of being treated like a political football.
"One thing we do know is that the current unrest is hitting farmers, their families and communities very hard. We urge the international political and business communities to facilitate a peaceful resolution so stability can swiftly return for the farmers and people of Côte d'Ivoire."
London ~ Saturday March 12 2011
Ivory Coast women defiant after being targeted by Gbagbo's guns
Slaughter of protesters calling for president Laurent Gbagbo to quit heightens resistanceDavid Smith in Abidjan
Women hold posters reading 'Gbagbo, women killer' and 'Gbagbo, even Hitler did not kill like you did, true killer of democracy' during a demonstration in Treichville, Abidjan to condemn the killings of seven women. (Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images)
First guilt, then pain, then disgust. First tears, then sleeplessness, then defiance. This has been the inner turmoil of Aya Virginie Toure, principal organiser of a peaceful demonstration by 15,000 women that ended in unthinkable, horrifying carnage.
Like millions of people in Ivory Coast and all over the world, Toure was sickened last week when soldiers loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo trained machine guns on protesters and opened fire. Six were killed on the spot, a seventh died in hospital and about 100 were wounded as the streets of Abidjan ran with blood.
But resolute and unbowed, women young and old were back out in force this week brandishing placards that said: "Don't shoot us" – a gesture that won the admiration of president Barack Obama and testified to a rich heritage of female activism in west Africa that could yet prove Gbagbo's undoing.
Toure is president of a women's group allied to the party of Alassane Ouattara, the man regarded by the international community as the winner of November's disputed election. She called the 3 March demonstration to intensify pressure on Gbagbo to step down. "They said that, as women, they had to play their part now," she recalled. "Gbagbo's forces have shot at men but we never thought they would shoot at women."
Toure estimated that about 500 of the demonstrators were either naked or wearing black. "In Africa, and Ivory Coast, this is like a curse," she explained. "That's why the soldiers were afraid and shot at them.
"Some also had brooms and leaves in their hands. They were cursing the rule of Gbagbo, putting a spell on him: 'If you were born of woman, step down; if not, you can stay.' This is why the soldiers were scared.
"The women were whistling and singing and chanting and dancing to encourage Mr Gbagbo to leave. Tanks and Humvees showed up – the women started to applaud them because they thought they were there to support them. But suddenly they started shooting at them. One woman had a baby on her back. She died but the baby survived.
"When I got there it was terrible. People were going mad on the ground. Women were crying and there was blood. Some women were running and others were putting clothes on the corpses. They were saying, 'Gbagbo killed us! Gbagbo is killing us! Please help, please help!'"
The massacre was an appalling test of Toure's self-belief and resilience. "The first feeling I had was guilt. I had called all the mothers and sisters into the street and I felt guilty for what happened. I spent all the day crying, wondering what are we going to do now?
"My second feeling was great pain for those who lost their lives. I could not sleep the whole night and had to take pills. But then I told the women that if we stop here it will be like our friends died for nothing. We have to continue the struggle to honour their memory."
Asked about her feelings towards Gbagbo, she replied: "Disgust. Pity. He is mad. Nobody can do what he did against women. I can't say I hate him because I'm a Christian, but he has to step down. Gbagbo doesn't love Ivorians; the only thing he loves is the presidential seat."
Toure no longer feels safe in her home. As a precaution, the 58-year-old grandmother sleeps at a different address each night. But despite the threat, she said three times as many protesters turned out to mark International Women's Day this week than took part in the 3 March protest.
"We will continue to march until Gbagbo steps down," Toure said. "He killed those women because he wanted to create fear. When a population is yearning for freedom, it has no fear. They were fearless on that day. Today I'm proud as an Ivorian woman to resist dictatorship and choose our own course."
Ivory Coast has had a long tradition of women's activism since before independence in 1960 when wives marched on the city of Bassam to demand the release of leaders jailed by the French colonialists. "Women go on to the streets when men fail," Toure said. "When women go to the streets, it shows the situation is not good."
A women's peace movement in neighbouring Liberia was influential in ending a civil war and forcing president Charles Taylor into exile. The country then chose Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Africa's first elected female head of state.
But what was shocking by any yardstick last week was the Ivorian army's lethal response – attacking women in such a way had previously been regarded as taboo. It is widely seen as one of the country's darkest days.
Some women feel the world's response has been inadequate. Kandia Camara, a member of Ouattara's government-in-waiting designated to education and women's affairs, said: "We are really disappointed by the international community. It seems that no one wants to help us.
"They are looking at us being killed without doing anything. There is no respect of human life here in Ivory Coast yet no one reacts. We need something right now, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month."
She even compared the situation to a notorious genocide of the 1990s. "We don't want Mr Gbagbo to kill everyone like happened in Rwanda before the international community came to apologise. Act now instead of saying sorry later. We don't want this to be a doctor after death."
Camara, 51, has been holed up at the Golf hotel, guarded by UN peacekeepers and surrounded by Gbagbo's troops, since the November election. She has not seen her husband or children, whose ages range from seven to 20, for nearly four months. Her family is in hiding in Abidjan and she can only communicate by telephone.
"For a mother it's very difficult," she said. "All the women of Ivory Coast plead with the international community to come and help us to stop this mass killing of our women, our children, our men, our country. Ivory Coast is dying because of this man. Mr Gbagbo is not a normal man. He is crazy.
"Please, please, please the UN, the USA, Great Britain, France, Ecowas [the west African regional bloc], the AU [African Union], pity the Ivorian people. We are helpless now. We don't know what to do. It's catastrophic."