Tensions run high at the gates of Abidjan

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Police chief's home ransacked, set on fire

Everything went up in flames on Friday, December 17th. As they had done for several days previously, young supporters of Ouattara were blocking the main roads of the town centre with pieces of wood and tyres. Around 11 a.m., a dozen policemen arrived on a brand new pick-up to disperse them with tear-gas grenades. One of these exploded near the little mosque where tens of Muslims were praying. Carried by the wind, the gas swiftly dispersed them. Spread by mobile phones, the rumour of an "attack on Muslims" inflamed emotions in the African town.

Ready for a fight: Laurent Gbagbo. © DR. Ready for a fight: Laurent Gbagbo. © DR.
The chief of police, who was trying to present his apologies to the offended, saw the first demonstrators flood in. The white pick-up was turned over and set on fire. Diallo, pro-Ouattara, describes what happened next: "Two groups of youths sandwiched the police between them. The police threw the remaining teargas grenades and fired into the air. They aimed at two of ours, who were covered in protection [amulets and lucky charm fetiches]. But the bullets wouldn't penetrate. So they aimed for our feet to disperse us. My neighbour got two bullets in the thigh. There were several wounded, and one killed, a teenager of about 15. I took my machete and went to hide in the coconut plantation. Lots of my friends came to join me. An Ivorian TV vehicle soon arrived. It was blocked by the demonstrators, driven to the Odos district and burnt".

Police and riot police reinforcements were sent from Abidjan. But they were unable to prevent the home of the chief of police from being ransacked and set on fire. The man, due to retire at the end of the month, had previously sent his family to safety in Moossou. His mother, however, had remained in the house and only just escaped the flames.

"On Saturday morning, there was a curfew in broad daylight", explains a policeman. "My colleagues who had come from Abidjan were very angry. They belong to the same [police training academy class] year as the three policemen killed a couple of days earlier in Abobo railway station". Abobo is a quarter of Abidjan. "They broke down doors, notably in search of the fetish-man who had defied them the day before," he said. "Finally they arrested three youths and took them to the police station".

"At the entrance of my quarter they shot into the air to scare us," contines Diallo. "Old Dioula women [Dioula is the generic term used to designate northern ethnic groups], stripped naked to curse them. They headed towards the police station to demand their children be released. One policeman responded by dropping his pants. The women were dispersed. Since then the demonstrations have stopped. But it's still bubbling away underneath".

A pro-Gbagbo woman confides: "Us, we watch them dither. For the moment, we've hit the pause button. They've played their first half. We're waiting for the second, if there is one."

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Key dates to the current crisis:

August 1960: Former French colony is declared independent.

December 1993: Death of president Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

December1994: Adoption of a new electoral codel restricting eligibilty of presidential candidates.

October 1995: Election as president of Henri Konan Bédié, so-called 'natural heir' to Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

December 1999: Coup d'état during which General Robert Gueï takes power.

October 2000: Laurent Gbagbo elected president.

September 2002: Coup d'état attempt against Laurent Gbagbo. The rebels take over control of the mostly Muslim north of the country.

January 2003: Signature of the Marcoussis peace agreement, allowing rebels into government while Gbagbo retained presidency.

July 2003: Official end to the civil war.

2005: Presidential elections postponed until October 2010.

March 2007: Ouagadougou agreement for peace settlement programme.

November 2010: The postponed presidential elections are finally held. Ivorian electoral commission proclaims Alassane Ouattara the victor, with 54% of the vote (Laurent Gbagbo 46%). The Gbagbo-controlled Ivorian Constitutional Council claims a 51%-49% victory for Gbagbo, who refuses to stand down.