The unrest in Ivory Coast has ratcheted up to a new level today after seven women were killed during a protest agains the continued rule of Laurent Gbagbo.
Onlookers say that the protest in the country’s commercial capitol, Abidjan was a peaceful demonstration until pro-Gbagbo forces arrived to disperse the crowd. Previously, protests such as this one have been broken up by the military, with soldiers often shooting into the air to scare demonstrators away. However, the forces pulled up in their vehicles and then pointed their machine guns into the crowd, spraying rounds of bullets at the women protestors. Six women were declared dead on the scene, one died later in a local hospital. Many more were left wounded as panic ensued and individuals tried to escape from harm’s way.
All-women demonstrations such as this, have played a key roll in opposition with the Ivory Coast. Within the past week, a number of large crowds of women have been putting the pressure on the government and calling for Gbagbo to cede power.
The UN estimates that 365 people have died in Ivory Coast since last November’s election. Most are supporters of Alassane Ouattara, the candidate who was recognized internationally as the legitimate winner. Following yesterday’s massacre at the women’s demonstration, the UN says they have received reports of 26 additional deaths in the past 24 hours.
The country now inches closer to an all out civil war with Gbagbo showing little interest in a peaceful resolve. However, Adekeye Adebajo, the executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at Cape Town University says an all out civil war is not inevitable:
“You have a situation that could erupt into civil war. But it could also be a stalemate that continues…the advantage Ivory Coast has over many other countries in this situation is the presence of 9,000 UN peacekeepers who could maintain the partition.”
Since the elections, more than 200,000 people have fled the violence stemming from the capitol. Though Gbagbo has not publicly endorsed the use of force against protestors, his regime has not shown sympathy for those affected by the violence. In an article on yesterday’s massacre, The Guardian reports:
There was no official comment but a military source confirmed the shooting. “It was a blunder that we regret,” the source said, adding that security forces believe rebels sometimes hide among civilians. “It is unfortunate.”
While the coverage of this conflict has fallen behind other uprisings in North Africa, we will be watching, paying attention and keeping the women and all people of Ivory Coast in mind.