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Promise of Lower Fuel Prices Ends Ivory Coast Strike


A week-long transport strike in Ivory Coast has ended after Prime Minister Guillaume Soro announced the government will lower fuel prices. Brent Latham reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar, the government promises new fuel subsidies.

Transport groups in Ivory Coast have called an end to a strike that crippled the country last week. Taxis and busses in the capital, Abidjan, are again moving passengers, after the government announced a reduction in fuel prices.

The government decided to cut the price of diesel and gasoline in response to "the people's cry from the heart," the prime minister said in an address. Mr. Soro said the decision followed an extraordinary meeting of the government chaired by President Laurent Gbagbo.

Mr. Soro said fuel subsidies would be financed by cutting the salaries of government ministers by half. He added the salaries of managers of state-owned companies would also be reduced, along with international travel by government officials.

The program officer for the Abidjan-based National Democratic Institute, Fadimatou Hayatou, says the news was met with reserved optimism by groups that staged demonstrations last week in Abidjan.

Hayatou says the strikes have ended after a week of protests. She says in ending the strike, the transportation groups have taken the prime minister at his word, but they are still waiting to see what will happen. The transport workers have said they are willing to strike again if the government does not follow through on the proposal.

Last week's strike crippled the capital and several towns in the interior. Thousands of workers were forced to stay home because public transport, in the form of taxis and minibuses, was unavailable.

Mr. Soro said the fuel price initiative would cost the Ivory Coast government nearly $500 million annually.

The prices of diesel and gasoline in Ivory Coast rose sharply two weeks ago when the government abruptly canceled previous subsidies, saying it could no longer afford to subsidize in the face of the rising cost of crude oil.

The U.S. government's Energy Information Administration reports petroleum consumption in Ivory Coast has remained stable during the past three years, despite rising fuel prices.

In the meantime, oil production in Ivory Coast has rocketed. Petroleum has supplanted traditional exports cocoa and coffee as the chief source of export revenue for the government of Ivory Coast. The Energy Information Administration reports the sale of petroleum last year accounted for 28 percent of the government's export revenues.

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