Danger stalks streets of tired, angry Abidjan

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2011 11:53 AM
Danger stalks streets of tired, angry Abidjan

By Mark John

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The ousting of Laurent Gbagbo brings the prospect of peace one step closer for Ivory Coast but the streets of its main city, Abidjan, will remain a dangerous place for days if not weeks to come.

Even in staunch anti-Gbagbo bastions, celebrations of his arrest by troops loyal to his rival Alassane Ouattara on Monday were muted, partly by weariness over the four-month row that has followed November's presidential election, but also by raw fear.

For weeks, Gbagbo allies have been arming youth gangs with Kalashnikov rifles and urging them to defend their country.

After terrorizing whole neighborhoods, those youths are now on the losing side -- leaderless, angry and just as dangerous.

"Our work isn't finished yet," said Tahirou Sanogo, a member of one of the many armed vigilante groups that have been operating roadblocks to protect the pro-Ouattara district of Adjame from incursions by pro-Gbagbo youths.

"We've still got the mopping up to do," he told Reuters, predicting more of the street fighting that has already left the boulevards of Abidjan littered with corpses and cars shredded by snipers' bullets.

The World Food Program said on Tuesday it suspended flights to Abidjan because of risks to staff.

The fall of Gbagbo, who refused to give up power despite losing the election according to U.N.-certified results, followed weeks of armed conflict on the streets of Abidjan.

Ouattara used his first speech after Gbagbo's arrest to urge Ivorians late on Monday to refrain from vengeance attacks and pledged to bring to justice those on both sides responsible for a civilian death toll which has surpassed 1,500.

BODIES

But his appeal for reconciliation fell on deaf ears in the Gbagbo stronghold of Yopougon, where residents on Tuesday found the bodies of 14 youths shot either in the head or chest overnight.

"We don't know who did this. We must have U.N. patrols here. It is just not safe," said local man Dertun Yao, adding that armed gangs were still roaming the neighborhood.

While French and United Nations forces have been operating security patrols, there is a limit to what can be covered in a city of four million people.

The implications of continued insecurity in Ivory Coast's premier business city and port are many.

While it should be possible to secure the area of the port itself, it is unclear how many haulage firms are ready to brave the journey there from the interior.

Desperately needed work to repair damaged infrastructure, including water and power services, will be dependent on a bare minimum of safety on the ground.

Banks will think twice about reopening their branches until they can be sure that law and order is holding, and investors will want to see that this is the case in the long term.

In parts of southern Abidjan, security had improved enough for taxis and public buses to return to the main thoroughfares, and for some shops to reopen, a Reuters witness said.

"I'm happy peace is returning, even if it is not over, even if armed men are still firing sometimes," said resident Fatouma Diaby in the neighborhood of Marcoury, as a French military convoy moved through.

"We're no longer afraid the soldiers will fight each other and that we, the population, will be hurt."

On Ouattara's TCI television, run out of the temporary headquarters of his government in a downtown Abidjan hotel, the heads of the national police and gendarmerie promised in taped messages to guarantee security. They urged Ivorians to go back to work and to live life as normal.

But a steady stream of hundreds of Abidjanais seen heading north out of the city in cars and minibuses on Tuesday suggests that for now at least, many see their lives as safer elsewhere.

(Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly and Ange Aboa; Editing by Giles Elgood and Jeffrey Heller)