Ivorians flee Abidjan violence in their thousands

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 12:09 PM

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Thousands of Ivorians fleeing violence in the commercial capital Abidjan gathered in its main bus station on Sunday, crowding onto buses carrying suitcases full of belongings they had salvaged to head to the countryside.

Men pushed, shoved and sometimes fought to get onto packed buses, exhausted children sat or tried to sleep on piles of luggage at the station in Adjame, the scene of fierce fighting in the past week between forces backing incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara in an election dispute.

"We're getting out of Abidjan. Bullets were falling on us day and night. We don't know what to do. We are so tired of this," said civil servant Adama Diawara, in front of a crowd of people taking refuge in a bus shelter.

"We want the international community to come and help us."

Gbagbo is refusing to cede power after an election that Ouattara won, according to electoral commission results that were approved by the United Nations and most world leaders.

The November 28 election was meant to reunite a country split since a 2002-3 war but Gbagbo's refusal to hand power to Ouattara, who has been backed by the former rebels still controlling the north, has pushed it to the brink of war.

"Since the day before yesterday, we've been here but we only managed to get a ticket at 2 a.m. (0200 GMT) this morning," said Aicha Diabate, sitting in the station with her children. Ticket touts were buying them all up and charging double, she said, as a young man wheeled his sick father there in a wheelbarrow.

SAFE NORTH

The heaviest fighting has taken place in Abidjan but clashes also flared in the west of the world's top cocoa grower, where northern forces have pushed south across the ceasefire line.

Both Diawara and Diabate bought tickets to travel to the rebel-held north of the country which has seen little or no violence since the disputed elections.

At least 25 people were killed when pro-Gbagbo forces fired a series of mortar rounds into Abidjan's northern Abobo district on Thursday, including one that exploded in a busy marketplace, the U.N. peacekeeping mission said. Gbagbo's military has denied it fired the rounds.

The U.N. says some 435 people have been killed and another 450,000 forced from their homes since the crisis began.

An influential youth leader and staunch Gbagbo supporter called on his "Young Patriot" followers on Saturday to sign up for the army, stoking fears of all-out civil war.

"We're leaving because this is war. I think both presidents should get out and we can start all over again with a third," shouted a man who gave his name only as Rougeau.

(Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Louise Ireland)