In Abidjan streets — looting, scramble for water

By Ange Aboa

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Looters and desperate residents scrambling to find water occupied the otherwise deserted streets of Abidjan on Thursday after a week of fighting for control of Ivory Coast’s commercial capital.

On the main boulevard leading from the airport to the two strategic bridges linking the city’s southern and northern districts, pillagers carted away chairs and bags of loot from shops whose windows had been smashed.

Some residents could be seen trying to break water mains as others, holding jerry cans or balancing green plastic containers on their heads, waited impatiently nearby.

Days of clashes between forces loyal to presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara and incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede power, have turned what was once known as the “Paris of Africa” into a ghost city.

Aid agencies say hospitals are overwhelmed with wounded, medical supplies are lacking and doctors and nurses sometimes have to work without running water and electricity.

In the leafy, well-to-do Cocody district where Ouattara’s forces are laying siege to Gbagbo’s private residence, civilians braved sporadic gunfire on Thursday, walking several kilometers to find food and water.

“Every morning people have to take jerry cans to walk around the neighborhood and search for water,” one resident who only gave his name as Jean-Claude said.

“As for food, there is nothing left. People have to queue up in long lines to buy even a single baguette which has shot up from 150 CFA francs to 300,” he said. “There are bodies in the streets and no one to clear them up.”

On the northern corridor where Ouattara’s forces have set up a base camp, 23-year-old Alassane Daekite was busy selling packets of atieke — the ground manioc which is one of the staples of West Africa.

“The soldiers are behaving well, they pay up. Sometimes they even give you a tip,” he said.

“Now it’s safe here, (Gbagbo’s) militia guys have all fled. Everyone here wants Gbagbo to go, we’ve had enough of this, we are tired.”

At a petrol station nearby, Ouattara’s soldiers detained around 200 people in a car-washing hangar, suspecting them of being pro-Gbagbo militiamen.

“Perhaps they are simply people fleeing the violence. We don’t know. We will hold them here waiting to interrogate them,” said Ouattara’s commander Toure Moussa, as soldiers handed bottles of water to the detainees.

“If they are militias, they will be considered prisoners of war. We will not kill them,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Mark John in Abidjan and George Fominyen in Dakar, writing by Silvia Aloisi, editing by Tim Pearce)

In Abidjan streets — looting, scramble for water