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Ivory Coast Crippled by Transport Workers' Strike - 2002-07-22

Ivory Coast's largest city, Abidjan, remains paralyzed for a fourth day as transport workers continue to strike. The stoppage, the latest in a series of worker protests in the West African country, was called to protest what the workers say is racketeering by security forces.

Transport workers in Abidjan and throughout Ivory Coast called the strike after a police officer shot and killed a taxi driver who, witnesses say, refused to pay a bribe to police. The shooting took place last Thursday at one of many police checkpoints in Abidjan where officers routinely stop motorists, sometimes at gunpoint, and demand bribes.

The most common victims of police shakedowns are the city's cab drivers, who are easy prey because they are known to carry large amounts of cash in small denominations. Mohamed Traore, 28, a taxi driver in Abidjan's sprawling Yopougon district, told VOA he hopes the strike will influence the government to discipline the police forces. He says he is tired of being harassed.

Mr. Traore says that on his daily taxi route, there are between 30 and 40 police checkpoints. He says he wonders if he is working for the police, since what little money he has left after paying for fuel ends up in the hands of corrupt officers. He says he often has no money to give the officers, in which case they take away his license. Even if all of his vehicle's registration and inspection papers are in order, Mr. Traore says the officers fabricate a safety violation in order to justify their demand for money.

Police officials have declined to comment on the shooting of the taxi driver, and on the strikers' accusations of corruption among the ranks. The government of President Laurent Gbagbo has offered to pay for the driver's funeral and says it will charge the police officer with murder. Transport workers, however, charge the leadership is doing little to solve the overall problem of police corruption in the country.

Most commuters in this city of nearly three million people depend on taxis to get to work. As a result, some offices and shops in the city have been forced to remain closed during the strike because employees have no means of transport. Other commuters have resorted to walking as many as 20 kilometers from far-flung suburbs to get to work.

The transport strike is the latest in a series of worker protests that have shaken Ivory Coast this year. In recent months, there have been stoppages by nurses, police officers, prison guards, customs agents, and judges.