Abidjan empties as Ivorians seek safety

By Mark John

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Residents of Abidjan headed out of Ivory Coast’s main city by foot or ramshackle bus on Saturday, seeking safety, medicine or simply something to eat.

The trickle of Abidjanais through the city’s northern corridor is a sign that many doubt conditions will improve soon, as a violent battle for power between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara drags on.

In the northern district of Gesco, kiosks selling mobile phone credits, shops and restaurants, were all shut.

A nightclub promising dancing “night and day” was locked with padlocks, its windows boarded up.

The only sign of life on the streets was people searching for food or water, alone or in small groups.

“People started leaving a couple of weeks ago when the fighting started. They went out of Abidjan to live with their family, or to safer parts of the city,” said Alassane Bamba, 20, pushing a wheelbarrow with four 20-liter jerrycans of water.

“At the moment, here at least, it is quiet. We know there are militias but they stay inside, they are hiding. We don’t know where they are.”

The fragility of that calm was illustrated graphically 20 minutes later by loud explosions barely one kilometer away.

Pro-Ouattara soldiers who hold the northern districts of Abidjan said they were still battling pockets of resistance.

A bus comes past with around 50 residents from across the city bound for the official capital Yamoussoukro several hours drive north.

“I am just going to stay with friends for a few days — just waiting for things to calm down a bit,” said passenger Guillaume Amitchi.

Arouna Diarra said his grandmother was ill and he was hoping to get medicines for her in Yamoussoukro, taken with little fighting by Ouattara troops 10 days ago.

“I am also going to take refuge for a couple of days. More needs to be done for security here, people are scared,” he said.

On the road out of Abidjan, a family of eight Burkinabe say they are heading for the northern city of Bouake — by foot if necessary.

“Yesterday militia men came to our house, we were threatened. Luckily we got out thanks to the FRCI (Ouattara forces) who came. But we are trying to get out, to Bouake. The militia could come back at any moment and perhaps the worst will happen next time,” said one of the group, Jean Kima.

“We were born here, grew up here, we didn’t think it would come to this in this country… Some people say the reason that Ivory Coast is at war is the foreigners. But they need to sort this out without attacking foreigners who are not even armed.”

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Mike Nesbit)

Abidjan empties as Ivorians seek safety