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Week of Military Clashes, Mob Rioting Rocks Ivory Coast


Ivory Coast is struggling to get back to daily life after a week of violent clashes among youth militias and Ivorian and French military led to the deaths of dozens of people and injured hundreds. But foreign nationals continue to be evacuated fearing the emergence of renewed violence.

Evacuation flights continue to depart from the international airport in Abidjan for foreigners who are fleeing Ivory Coast after suffering from rampaging mobs and rioting that has targeted the expatriate communities in Ivory Coast. The French military have confirmed that several western women were raped during the violence inciting more to leave immediately.

A businessman at the airport waiting to depart, Yohannes Mekbebe, says he will return but the future of Ivory Coast looks bleak.

"I think this country is in a downward spiral that it can't recover from," said Yohannes Mekbebe. "It's unnecessary to point any blame at the administration that is here or the French or what have you. This is completely an economical situation. You have a population mass in this country that the majority is under 30, they have absolutely nothing to do with themselves, they don't have any direction. And basically, it's hunger in the masses that listens to any radical voice."

Mr. Mekbebe says one of his warehouses in the second port city of San Pedro was looted and destroyed because he says Ivorian military and youth militias believed it was owned by a French national.

Anti-French sentiment soared after the French military destroyed the Ivorian air defensive capabilities in retaliation for the deaths of nine French soldiers who were killed during an air raid that hit one of their positions in the rebel-held north.

Tens of thousands of Ivorians took to the streets and demanded the French leave their country saying they are no longer under the power of the colonial ruler. The destination was the iconic Hotel Ivoire which used to symbolize the wealth and prosperity of the world's number one cocoa producing nation and was being protected by French tanks and soldiers.

One of the protesters, Wilfried Serge Djoco, says France was attempting to remove Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo.

"We are going to Hotel Ivoire to tell the French soldiers to get out," he said. "Because Ivory Coast is for us, not for [Jacques] Chirac. We've got our president. Our president is Mr. Laurent Gbagbo. Chirac is not Ivory Coast president. He's the president of France, not for Ivory Coast. Ivory Coast is our country. It's our economic independence and our political independence today."

After two days of protesting in front of the hotel, the French troops decided to move out and return control to the Ivorian military. While they were departing, the crowds rushed the barbed wire barricade that surrounded the hotel and gunfire was exchanged. The French military issued a statement saying the exchange was between youth militia members in the crowd and the Ivorian military.

But protesters believe that the French soldiers were responsible for the deaths.

At the main hospital in Cocody, thousands of people crammed under the red and white flashing lights from the ambulances. In front of the entrance to the emergency wing, under the cover of Ivorian flags, the bodies of three young men lie on the ground surrounded by a silent crowd.

A doctor at the hospital, Privat Guei, describes how the boys died.

"These little boys, the French soldiers killed them," he said. "The second one, the tank shot and took off his head. The last one they killed him with the guns."

Dr. Guei says that nine civilians including two women, one of whom was three-months pregnant died.

At one point, sporadic gunfire rang out at the hospital causing many in the crowd to flee.

Efforts were being made to implement peace agreements, but government air raids on the rebel-held north launched last week violated an 18-month-old cease-fire agreement. The rebels report that 85 people died in the attacks in the north and now there is no electricity or running water prompting fears of outbreaks of disease.

The African Union sent South African President Thabo Mbeki to help end the crisis and relaunch the peace process.

Evangelical preacher, Cisse Abdou says President Mbeki was well received in Abidjan.

"The people feel positive because President Mbeki had been a victim of what we are seeing presently," said Cisse Abdou. "In South Africa, there have been so many problems like apartheid. You know the whites were undermining. They are trying to destroy us Africans. They don't want us to think on our own. They don't want us to react on our own. They want us to depend on them. So the coming of Thabo Mbeki who has been a fighter of freedom in South Africa will be an appeasement for the population of Cote d'Ivoire."

President Mbeki is hosting representatives from the opposition and rebel movements for new peace talks in South African but President Gbagbo has chosen not to attend potentially jeopardizing renewed efforts to implement the political reforms and begin the disarmament campaign ahead of elections scheduled for late next year.

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