March 1, 2011 / 5:40 PM / in 7 years

Ivorian pro-Gbagbo groups rampage against foreigners

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Youth supporters of Ivory Coast’s incumbent Laurent Gbagbo rampaged through the business district of Abidjan on Tuesday, pillaging shops owned by foreigners.

<p>President Laurent Gbagbo (L) shakes hands with South Africa's President Jacob Zuma at the presidential palace in Abidjan February 21, 2011. REUTERS/Luc Gnago</p>

The violence followed a call on Friday by Ble Goude, the head of Gbagbo’s youth wing, to resist what he called an insurgency seeking to depose Gbabgo and install rival Alassane Ouattara, winner of a November 28 poll according to U.N.-certified results.

Gbagbo’s Young Patriots have long been notorious for xenophobic violence, including attacks against the country’s French community in 2004, on its large Burkinabe and Malian communities and northern Ivorians with cultural ties to them.

Anti-foreigner sentiment is at the core of the troubles that have dogged Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower, for years and has worsened as most nations recognise Ouattara’s win.

Ouattara was twice barred from running in previous polls because his father is from Burkina Faso.

“I don’t understand what happened. The youths arrived ... and starting destroying the things in my shop. They looted everything and now I have nothing left,” Senegalese shopkeeper Ismael Bah told a Reuters reporter.

“What did I do? I‘m not involved in politics,” he added.

Mobile phone retailer Mamadou Barro, also from Senegal, fell victim to a similar attack. “My whole shop is ruined. They stole everything. Everything I owned was invested in this business. Now it’s gone,” he said.

Security in Ivory Coast is deteriorating, with gun battles between rival forces most of last week and wider hostilities resuming across a north-south ceasefire line that had been largely quiet since the 2002-3 civil war ended in stalemate.

Insurgents believed to back Ouattara now control of most of the northern Abidjan suburb of Abobo after the clashes.

United Nations staff have also been attacked and robbed by gangs after repeated broadcasts on state television accusing them of backing pro-Ouattara rebels.

“The situation is now calm, with everything under control of the invisible commandos,” said Abobo resident Vasseriki Sumaro, a teacher. “All the security forces have left.”

The United Nations also said its investigators are trying to confirm if Gbagbo breached an arms embargo by importing helicopters from Belarus. They had to abandon their search after his forces fired at them on the weekend.

Xenophobia often flares up at troubled times in Ivory Coast.

In 2002, after a failed coup attempt against Gbagbo by northern soldiers, thousands of Burkinabes and Malians went into hiding because of attacks by youth gangs or police.

Separately, thousands of civil servants were anxiously waiting on Tuesday to see if they will be paid for the month of February after a total exodus of international banks.

Gbagbo’s government nationalised two French banks, saying they would reopen them soon, but analysts doubt it will work, as West Africa’s central bank has cut ties with him.

“There are so many people queuing up in the local banks. Everyone wanted to be served. But I managed to get my salary,” said Gustave Ogou, who works in Abidjan’s post office.

But others were worried the cash would run out before they reach the till.

“They promised us Friday, but I‘m really afraid the money is going to run out,” health ministry official Mathias Gosse said.

In a further crackdown on the media, two newspapers supporting Ouattara were forced to shut down this week because of intimidation by Gbagbo’s government, Stephane Goue, head of the Ivorian Committee to Protect Journalists, told Reuters.

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