Defiance of government stepped up in Abidjan




Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 24 June 1991

LEADING members of the Ivory Coast’s anti-government movement could be forced into hiding tomorrow as more tough government action against the opposition is threatened.

A near unanimous decision on Saturday night by the university teachers’ union, Synares, defied a government ban on strikes and declared an indefinite stoppage to start tomorrow. The action is in protest at the harassment of trade unionists and the continued military presence on Abidjan’s university campus.

Union members were told by the government last week that legal action would be taken against them if they went on strike, leading to salary reductions and possibly imprisonment. They could be forced to operate secretly to avoid arrest.

Synares is also protesting against a government decision last week to ban the independent students’ union, the Federation of Ivorian Students (Fesci). The government has blamed the union for last week’s brutal killing of a student accused of being a pro-government agitator paid to foment campus violence.

The university teachers join school teachers who have taken sporadic strike action for the past month, since allegations were made that soldiers had killed four students during a round-up of opposition activists in May. The government denies that the deaths occurred but has set up an inquiry.

The confrontation between the government and its opponents comes at a time of flagging popular support for the ruling Democratic Party (PDCI).

The main opposition party, the Ivorian Popular Front, led march through the centre of Abidjan on Saturday. Up to 10,000 opponents of the 30-year rule of President Felix Houphouet-Boigny marched through the city demanding the resignation of the government and declaring their support for the students and teachers.

The government’s strike ban, as well as its decision to ban the Fesci and curb other unions’ activities in the face of increasing opposition militancy, has created the most precarious situation ever faced in the country.

Mr Houphouet-Boigny is believed to be angry at the apparent reluctance of the Prime Minister, Alassane Ouattara, to take firm action against the current unrest. He is also said to be very concerned about the poor turnout at a PDCI march on Saturday, which eyewitnesses said was attended by only about 3,000 people.

The turnout reflected a growing reluctance among thousands of state employees – many of whom have paid regular contributions to the PDCI – to provide the government with the show of support it desperately needs.

Despite its apparent lack of popular appeal, the PDCI leadership has continued to claim that it has a mandate to rule. The party secretary-general, Laurent Dona-Fologo, said yesterday: “We are the party in the majority and we are the party in power. We have been in discussion with the opposition for a month and we haven’t found a solution.”

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