Rioters rampage through Abidjan




Security forces beat and kick Ivory Coast protesters

Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 19 February 1992

Smoke from blazing cars engulfed parts of the Ivory Coast capital, Abidjan, yesterday as thousands of anti-government rioters rampaged through the city fighting pitched battles with security forces, who kicked and beat protesters to the ground.

More than 20,000 supporters of the main opposition party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), had gathered in the suburb of Adjame for a legal march to the city centre. A group of 200 people joined the march early in the morning armed with knives, machetes and clubs with nails driven through them. When the march reached the law courts, this group broke away and set fire to eight cars, smashing the windows of others.

They spread throughout a square mile of the city centre, attacking cars and shops. Riot police and gendarmes threw tear gas cannisters, hit the rioters with knotted ropes and belts, and made 103 arrests, the government said.

But a journalist who was detained briefly said he saw many more arrested. The government said three protesters and two police officers had been seriously injured, but the final figure is likely to be higher.

The FPI leader, Laurent Gbagbo, escaped into a building and has since been arrested along with his wife Simone, who also attended the march. Others arrested included the leader of the Ivorian Workers’ Party, Francis Wodie, and the leader of the Tiuman rights league, Rene Degni Segui.

Troops cornered Mr Gbagbo and 15 of his supporters in the building, then forced them to surrender. Outside the building, soldiers forced a group of detainees to lie on the road and take off their shoes. Then they beat the soles of the screaming detainees’ feet with sticks and truncheons.

Diplomats in a nearby building said they saw five soldiers put explosives into a car believed to belong to Mr Gbagbo, and then set fire to it. Others arrested were beaten to the ground with sticks and truncheons by groups of soldiers.

A gendarme tried unsuccessfully to stop soldiers beating a man who happened to be passing by. He was lashed with webbed belts and kicked to the ground, then told to run by soldiers who chased him along the road.

The rioters dispersed before the security forces dosed off the streets, and many of those involved in the violence streamed across a bridge to the suburb of Treichville before police could arrest them.

The riot is without precedent and marks a dramatic upsurge in the strength of anti-government feeling. FPI leaders had met interior ministry officials on Monday night, who gave permission for the march on the understanding that there would be no violence.

Yesterday FPI officials blamed pro-government infiltrators for the violence. But their claims appear to be unfounded.

The demonstration was organised to protest against the government’s refusal to accept the recommendations of an official inquiry into army action at Abidjan university in May 1991.

The inquiry said soldiers sent to quell unrest were guilty of raping and beating students. It called for action against the army chief of staff, General Robert Guei, and the soldiers accused of rape.

At a hurriedly arranged press conference yesterday, the prime minister, Alassane Ouattara, said that legal action would be taken against all those arrested.

The arrests come two days after security forces swooped on Abidjan university campus and arrested students involved in violent demonstrations last week. Leaders of the banned students’ union, Fesci, have been held since last Thursday. Their release was also a demand of yesterday’s protesters.


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