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Ivory Coast Parliament Opens Toxic Waste Hearings


Ivory Coast's national assembly has opened public hearings into the dumping of several hundred tons of toxic waste in the country's main city last month. Two main figures implicated in the scandal have refused to appear before the body.

The nationally televised hearings at the national assembly building in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, began Monday.

The head of parliament's environment commission, Mamadou Die, said "it is not the goal here to put anyone on trial." He told the assembly, "we are searching for clear and precise information concerning what really happened."

Around 77,000 Abidjan residents have sought medical treatment for symptoms linked to the dumping of 528,000 liters of liquid chemical waste at more than a dozen sites around the city last month. Health officials say eight people have been confirmed to have died from toxic waste related illnesses.

The August 19 dumping of the waste, offloaded from a tanker ship chartered by the Dutch-based company, Trafigura Beheer BV, has led to the resignation of Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny's transitional government.

Parliament had called on five men, the former directors of customs and the port of Abidjan, the former ministers of transportation and the environment, and the governor of the district of Abidjan, to give testimony.

However, ex-transportation minister Innocent Kobenan Anaky, who was dragged from his car and beaten by angry protesters last week, declined to appear, citing heath problems related to the attack. The former minister of the environment, Jacques Andoh, also failed to appear.

In a letter read to the assembly by panel president Die, Andoh said his first obligations were toward a criminal inquiry and two investigating committees set up by the prime minister last week.

Abidjan district governor Pierre Djedji Amondji, the last to speak Monday, was heckled by assembly members as he began his testimony.

The hearings are scheduled to continue Tuesday. It remains unclear what, if any, action parliament might take.

Ivory Coast's national assembly has been a lightning rod for controversy in recent years. Due to a boycott of the last legislative elections by one of the principle opposition parties, the body is now largely dominated by supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo.

The elected mandate of its members expired last October, and no new election was held. The suggestion by international mediators in Ivory Coast's four-year-old civil war that the body be dissolved sparked five days of violent riots across the government-contolled south in January.

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