Ivory Coast Protesters Burn Cars And Loot Shops

Demonstrations have erupted almost daily across the world’s top cocoa producer since President Laurent Gbagbo dissolved the government and the electoral commission a week ago after a row over voter registration.

Marchers in Bouake shouted: “We don’t want Gbagbo”, as a group of them broke into the regional governor’s office and stole equipment. Rioters set fire to at least two cars.

“Gbagbo must quit now! He cannot stay in power,” said Abdul Sylla, 25, a clothing designer.

In the southwestern town of Gagnoa, Ivorian security forces dispersed protesters with tear gas a day after they opened fire on demonstrators there and killed five.

Friday’s clashes were the first to result in bloodshed in a week of demonstrations, heightening tension as public anger grows at years of delays to the election timetable.

The military confirmed on national television that five people had been killed and nine wounded in Friday’s protest.

But on Saturday, the march went more peacefully and had largely fizzled out by the afternoon. 

Gbagbo said in a statement in the state-owned Fraternite Matin newspaper that he had temporarily reinstated Defence Minister Michel N’Guessan Amani, Interior Minister Désiré Tagro and Finance Minister Charles Diby to handle government business while the prime minister forms a new government.

Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, a former rebel during the 2002-3 civil war that carved the country in two, was due to form a government on Saturday, but an aide said it would not be announced until Monday.

Reforming the electoral commission could take longer and Ivory Coast is certain to miss a scheduled March deadline to hold presidential polls already four-and-a-half years overdue.

Gbagbo dissolved the commission after accusing its chief Robert Mambe of illegally adding names to the electoral register to boost the opposition vote.

Many Ivorians have become deeply cynical about their leaders after years of political limbo, during which time neither Gbagbo nor the rebels have seemed in any great rush to resolve the crisis in West Africa’s former economic hub.

International pressure from actors such as the U.N., the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore is mounting on Gbagbo to move swiftly to get the peace process back on track.

France, which runs an expensive peacekeeping operation in its former colony, was the latest to add its voice to such calls.

“The process of exiting this crisis has required a lot of energy, effort and money,” French Ambassador Jean-Marc Simon told state TV in an address broadcast on Saturday. “It would be a shame if, just as we approach our goal, we threw it all away.”

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William Fitzgerald on Friday said: “There was a clear path and yet President Gbagbo felt obliged, for whatever reason, to take another path.”

Growing tensions threaten to hurt a cocoa industry that supplies some 40 percent of the global market and could derail an election the World Bank this month said must be held if the country is to obtain debt relief.

Despite the civil war and years of subsequent crisis, cocoa production in Ivory Coast has never seriously been disrupted. Reuters