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Thread: Whites in firing line in Ivory Coast

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    Post Whites in firing line in Ivory Coast

    Lara Pawson
    BBC, Ivory Coast

    The morbid dislike of foreigners, or xenophobia, lies at the heart of politics in Ivory Coast today - that, at least, is the view of a sizable minority here.

    Whether it is true will, in part, be put to the test with the trial of the policeman accused of killing a French journalist in Abidjan on 21 October 2003.

    He heads the Foundation for Jean Helene-Irheam - an organisation which takes its name from the 50 year-old journalist who worked for Radio France Internationale when he was shot dead at point-blank range outside a police station in Abidjan.

    "There are some people who do not want to see the foreigners, the white man," he says.

    "They do not want to share their life with them. They think it is because of them that they are becoming very poor."

    'Support for rebels'

    "The supporters of the government always think that in this war the white people, precisely the French men, help the rebels.

    "They think that Jean Helene was working for the rebels," he adds.

    The French have some 4,000 troops currently in Ivory Coast.

    They monitor a shaky cease-fire and maintain the buffer zone which is keeping the two warring sides apart.

    Supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo allege that French journalists and the French authorities have favoured the rebels - or former rebels as the New Forces are now known - since the crisis began.

    They allege that the Linas Marcoussis peace accords - brokered a year ago in France - also favoured the rebels.

    Significant role

    The French have good reason to try to quell tension in the former colony.

    About 20,000 nationals were living in the country prior to the crisis.

    Officials at the French embassy in Abidjan say, there are some 16,000 French nationals still living in Ivory Coast and play a significant role in the economy.

    Their economic power irritates some men who are close to the President.

    "The French think they run the place. It is fine for them to live here but I don't see why they should benefit so much." one of them told me.

    Anti-white feelings are new to Ivory Coast, according to a diplomatic source who says that racism has only occurred since an army mutiny 15 months ago.

    Whites in firing line

    "Since September 2002, anti-French sentiment has been whipped up. Obviously that impacts on other white people but it's been artificially manufactured," the source said.

    One of the dead man friends, Jacques Lhuillery, was talking to him four hours before he was killed.

    "We knew doing our work here as foreign journalists, especially as French journalists - although I wouldn't say specifically white journalists - we knew it was difficult," Mr Lhuillery, Bureau Chief of Agence France Presse in Ivory Coast told the BBC.

    "But it was thousands and thousands of light years from our minds that a journalist would be killed so brutally."

    Allegations that Irheam's death was the result of an organised assassination attempt carried out by agents of the state are not credible according to Mr Lhuillery.

    He believes that the man who is alleged to have shot the journalist had fallen prey to propaganda in the media.

    "He has been the victim of a daily and repeated hatred spread by the state media or extremist newspapers. When you don't have a high IQ and you read every day that the French are the enemy, it can be dangerous,' says Mr Lhuillery.

    Ethnic divide

    He says that he has many French friends Ivory Coast.

    The real problem here is ethnic, the anti-Burkinabe problem, for example, is much bigger than the anti-white problem

    Diplomatic source

    Reports that they left the country may have been true a year ago, when the crisis had taken a strong hold on the West African state, but many have since returned.

    Many here say that internal ethnic and religious differences pose a much bigger problem for Ivory Coast than any claims of racism.

    Here, xenophobic language is embedded in day-to-day speech. The so-called "autochthonous" peoples are those who were born in Ivory Coast and whose forefathers were born in Ivory Coast.

    The "allogenes" are also Ivorians, but they are people who have moved from the north to the south.

    Finally, the "immigrants" are those who come from Burkina Faso, Mali or Guinea.

    More hatred

    However, many so-called immigrants have lived here for decades and may even be second- or third- generation Ivorians.

    It is estimated that 26% of the population are immigrants.

    Since the economic down-turn - largely because of political instability here - the ethnic or 'immigrant' card has been exploited by certain politicians.

    Today many people here - particularly the foreign journalists community still in the country - will be hoping that the trial of the man accused of killing Jean-Helene Irheam will not stoke up any more hatred.

    "I hope that this trial will not be the scene of hatred once again. I do hope it will not be the occasion to revive this climate of hatred we saw a year ago," Jacques Lhuillery said.

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    Post Re: French fears in Ivory Coast-Whites in firing line

    I don't see why any country outside of Africa should be helping these toilet countries. Unless we've come up with a way to blend the negro and create a fuel from that stew we should stay out of these petty civil conflicts.

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    Turmoil in Ivory Coast

    Monday, 8 November, 2004, 12:19 GMT

    Eyewitness: Mobs rampage in Abidjan

    By James Copnall
    BBC correspondent in Abidjan

    After 36 hours of turbulence, Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan is approaching calm again.

    French property in Abidjan was targeted by protesters

    Long convoys of French tanks and armoured vehicles snaked down Abidjan's broad boulevards last night, as the French peacekeepers attempted to dissuade supporters of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo from anti-French violence.

    After the French destroyed the Ivorian air force in retaliation for an air raid that killed nine French peacekeepers, repeated broadcasts on national television urged Ivorians to take to the streets.

    Tens of thousands of President Gbagbo's supporters heeded the call, flooding towards the international airport which had been seized by the French.

    'Protestors killed'

    French soldiers and helicopters fired shots designed to intimidate the marchers, some of whom were armed.

    The protesters have heeded televised calls to take to the streets

    I saw red flashes zooming through the night sky, and loud explosions on one of the two bridges that join the two segments of Abidjan in half.

    The wave of protestors ran in panic as helicopters fired on the bridge.

    "They killed about 15 of our young men, and injured dozens," the head of the Nationaly Assembly, Mamadou Koulibaly, told the BBC.

    The French have subsequently denied the claim.

    French looted

    Either way the frustrated youths turned their attention on other French targets throughout Abidjan.

    A group of thugs came to our house... I have a young daughter of 17 and I was so scared of what they would do to her

    French citizen in Abidjan

    French businesses were destroyed, French schools burned, and the homes of European civilians attacked.

    "A group of thugs came to our house," one French woman told the BBC.

    "They took what they wanted. We were all terrified. I have a young daughter of 17 and I was so scared of what they would do to her."

    The woman and her family were subsequently rescued by UN peacekeepers and taken to a safe location.


    The French say that, in conjunction with the UN, they have pulled at least 100 people out of dangerous situations.

    French helicopters airlifted Europeans from apartment blocks and the prestigious Hotel Ivoire.

    Abidjan is tense but under control after riots, say French officials

    Impromptu road-blocks of burning tires were set up in many of Abidjan's broad boulevards, and in the plush residential district of Cocody, Gbagbo militants went door to door looking for whites.

    "Everyone get his white!" crowds shouted along the Rue des Jardins in Cocody.

    Nevertheless, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that many of the masses of young men swarming through the town were more interested in loot that brutality.

    "The took my stuff but they didn't hurt me," said Marc, a Frenchman, who has been in Ivory Coast for eight years.

    Troop movements

    As Sunday progressed, the French military presence got bigger and bigger.

    The southern half of Abidjan was quartered by French patrols, and in the night the tanks and armoured cars moved across the two bridges and into the north.

    By the morning a precarious calm had taken hold of the city.

    Street vendors started selling again, and guards sat lazily chatting in the early morning sun.

    That does not mean the situation was completely back to normal however.

    Ivorian radio repeatedly played a message demanding people to head to the Hotel Ivoire where many French tanks had been sighted. Boatloads of people from the district of Yopougon responded to the call. Yet with the military might at their disposal, it seems likely the French will quell this new show of popular force.

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