Slow return to normal in Ivory Coast

18th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Life slowly began to return to normal in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan on Monday as some civil servants went back to work and French forces handed back control of the main airport a week after strongman Laurent Gbagbo was toppled.

But state offices were still paralysed as only a handful of civil servants heeded an appeal by the west African nation's new government to resume work.

Small groups of employees gathered in front of towering office buildings in Abidjan's central Plateau district where heavily armed Ivorian and French troops patrolled.

New President Alassane Ouattara's minister for public service was himself late for work, saying his convoy had been delayed.

"I came to simply assess what is to be done, meet with all the officials and see what urgent issues need to be put in place so that work can begin quickly," Gnamien Konan told AFP in his office, where a portrait of the disgraced Gbagbo still hung.

"The state machinery hasn't been running for four months. Here at the ministry I can see that people have turned up," added Konan before going into his first staff meeting.

Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund official and long-time opposition figure, took charge on April 11 of the world's top cocoa grower when his forces stormed the presidential palace in Abidjan and seized Gbagbo.

French forces said they handed back control of the Abidjan international airport to Ivorian authorities after they and UN forces took control to evacuate foreigners from March 31.

"We handed back the control tower to the Ivorian authorities effective from 9:30 am," French forces spokesman Frederic Daguillon told AFP.

By midday Monday, more taxis and packed buses were on the streets that saw some of the fiercest fighting for 10 days between the rivals' forces ahead of Gbagbo's dramatic arrest in an operation backed by French and UN troops.

A civil servant at the parliament said that when he arrived at work "there was a decomposing body" at the building's entrance.

"Looters have stolen all the computers, they've turned everything upside down," the worker said, asking not to be named. "I don't know if we'll be able to get back to work for two or three months."

Troops from Ouattara's Republican Forces (FRCI) set up checkpoints at some crossroads, searching cars, an AFP journalist reported, with a few gunshots still heard Monday morning as they sought to scare off looters.

Streets were still littered with garbage, leaves and twigs as small traders cleaned and repaired their looted shops.

Banks and many supermarkets remained closed but some residents said they were just happy the violence had subsided.

"We are happy about the change. Under the previous government our lives were restricted," said Ouattara Djibril, a taxi operator in the Plateau district.

"We have all returned, but there are few clients. I hope that tomorrow will be a bit better," he added.

Newspapers also appeared for the first time Monday almost three weeks since publication halted, praising Ouattara under whom they said the country had been reborn.

"Ivory Coast is reborn," said Nord-Sud, while the Patriot said "With ADO, Ivory Coast is reborn," referring to the new leader's initials. "Deliverance," headlined Le Mandat. The three papers are pro-Ouattara.

State-run Fraternite-Matin, which had backed the deposed Gbagbo, was however reconciliatory, under the headline "Mr Ouattara: it is together that we will write our history."

Gbagbo -- who spent a decade in power -- had refused to accept defeat in November's presidential vote, provoking a violent stand-off even though the UN and the bulk of the international community had recognised Ouattara's victory.

The ex-president is under house arrest in the north of the country while former rebel fighters loyal to Ouattara patrol Abidjan along with UN peacekeepers and a force from former colonial master France.

His Ivorian Popular Front party said over the weekend it had noted the order for the state machinery to start functioning again, and urged an "end to the war" and the "increasing violence".

The country's largest student union also called on its members to disarm and heed Ouattara's reconciliation call.

© 2011 AFP

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