French remain in Ivory Coast resort town despite unrest
As the crisis and unrest in Ivory Coast escalated, French citizens in the seaside resort of Grand-Bassam said they had no intention of leaving, despite warnings from Paris.
Of the 14,000 French and dual nationality citizens registered in Ivory Coast, 1,500 had already left before a recommendation Wednesday to leave the country, where at least 173 people have been killed in post-election violence.
The west African nation has been in the grip of a deadly political stand-off since incumbent Laurent Gbagbo and his opponent Alassane Ouattara both claimed to have won a November 28 presidential election.
But in Grand-Bassam, a town of 50,000 renowned for its beaches and sea front restaurants, many local French citizens are waiting out the violence and refusing to leave.
While almost all of them insisted they felt safe, none agreed to be quoted by name.
"There have been no firm orders for the moment. But if I must leave, I will be the last," said one local resident speaking on condition of anonymity, a man in his 60s who is among the oldest members of the local French community.
Local French residents said they did not yet feel in danger, unlike in 2004 when fighting broke out between French and Ivorian forces.
"It is not the French who are on the frontline, it is the Ivorians themselves," said one Franco-Ivorian woman sitting in a straw hut in a garden.
"We have professional responsibilities, we cannot just leave," said her husband, a young business manager.
"We have an emotional connection with this country," said the man in his 60s, who took part in the French evacuation of November 2004.
In 2004 French forces in Ivory Coast reacted to an air strike that killed nine of their comrades by destroying Gbagbo's entire air force.
Rioting erupted in Abidjan, with gangs of "Young Patriots" targeting France's still substantial interests and large expatriate community in the city. French troops killed 50 civilian protesters.
"In 2004, the French were the targets. For now, no French citizen has been touched as far as I know," said the man in his 60s, who estimated that 260-280 French citizens resided in Grand-Bassam.
Most governments, including that of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, recognises Ouattara as president after UN-certified results indicated he won.
But though Gbagbo has lashed out at former colonial ruler France and the rest of the international community, his rhetoric has not yet targetted French citizens living in Ivory Coast.
One young Franco-Ivorian in Grand-Bassam said he felt "zero concern" and would ignore the call from France for its citizens to leave.
"I don't feel in any danger," he said, adding that some in the country were trying to feed anti-French sentiment but that "Ivorians are tired of this."
© 2010 AFP