Students plan protest as Ivory Coast unrest grows

The opposition blames infiltrators for campus violence, writes Mark Huband in Abidjan


The Guardian, 24 May 1991

STUDENTS in the Ivory Coast will take to the capital’s streets in anti-government protests today, one week after a violent round-up of students at Abidjan University, in which the opposition says four were killed.

University lecturers defied a ban on non-academic meetings on campus yesterday to voice support for the students after the worst violence in recent years. The lecturers’ union, Synares, is one of the country’s most active public sector unions.

One year after opposition parties were reluctantly legalised after violent protests and repression, unrest is growing over the continued stranglehold on power by the 31-year old regime of President Felix Houphouët-Boigny.

One opposition newspaper, Le Nouvel Horizon, has published a list of 33 students it says were seriously hurt in last Friday’s university raid. It adds that the fate of six others is still unknown. Students claim four of their number were killed in the raid, and the head of the Agence France-Presse bureau in Abidjan was expelled for publishing the claim. The government daily, Fraternité-Matin, yesterday again denied the story.

After winning presidential and national assembly elections of dubious fairness last year, the President has felt little need to include opposition groups in decision-making.

The authorities have been accused of stirring up the latest campus violence in an attempt to discredit the opposition.

Hardliners in the ruling Democratic Party (PDCI) took up key positions in the government after the elections and the President, aged 85, has devolved some powers on to the new Prime Minister, Alassane Ouattara, appointed last year on the advice of creditors who hope he can breathe life back into the country’s struggling economy.

The regime appears to have no intention of relinquishing any of its control, and the party propaganda machine used to discredit all dissenting voices reflects the rise of those expected to inherit power when the presidency finally changes hands.

Students and the opposition groups claim to know the identity of people infiltrated among students to vandalise property, foment unrest and undermine the opposition.

The loubards (thugs) have long distracted the opposition from its main political objectives and were used during the last elections.

The government, on the other hand, has published a list of those it says are responsible for campus violence, which it claims was organised at the house of the Synares secretary, Marcel Ette.

The opposition parties are trying to force the government to discuss the country’s political future at a national conference. Such conferences have been held recently in other African countries prior to democratic elections.

All parties except the biggest, the Ivory Coast Popular Front (FPI), have joined the call. The FPI simply wants the government to resign, but the sentiment of all groups is one of frustration.

For the opponents of the regime, democracy seems further away than ever.



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