04 March 2011

Women in Peril: Ivory Coast Protesters

From Denny: The defiant leader of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, ordered his forces to fire upon thousands of unarmed female protesters. Six were killed. In this culture, when women march as protesters it is considered a last resort against an unrestrained Army.

Photo: A main square in the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, today now littered by piles of burning trash. Road blocks by supporters of Alassane Ouattara have prevented normal traffic in this once bustling area. Barricades were erected by locals in an effort to limit incursions by security forces and militias loyal to the Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo.

Photo by Rebecca Blackwell/AP

It was a horrible day of barbarism when Gbagbo ordered tanks to attack the protesters and then the soldiers opened fire upon the unarmed women yesterday. The women were demanding Gbagbo cede power and protesting his refusal to leave office. You see, another man won the presidential election on 28 November 2010, yet the former leader refuses to give up the office.

From Patrick Achi, spokesman for the internationally recognized new government of Alassane Ouattara, "Indeed, we anticipated everything short of imagining that one could shoot live rounds at unarmed women, all the more with tanks."

This three month long struggle for the new government to take office has resulted in almost 400 killed. Firing upon unarmed female protesters shocked the nation, shattering a cultural taboo, a belief system that assumed soldiers could never stoop so low as to fire upon a women's march.

The organizer of the women's march, Sirah Drane, age 41, said the protesters were gathered at a traffic circle in Abobo. She was about to address the crowd when the tanks rolled into the square.

She told of the horror: "That's when we saw the tanks. There were thousands of women. And we said to ourselves, 'They won't shoot at women.' ... I heard a boom. They started spraying us. ... I tried to run and fell down. The others trampled me. Opening fire on unarmed women? It's inconceivable."

For some time now the international community has been pressuring Gbagbo to step down, recognizing the newly elected leader as the legitimate government. Yesterday's killings elicited an immediate rebuke from the American government.

From U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, "The moral bankruptcy of Laurent Gbagbo is evident as his security forces killed women protesters."

From the U.N. Security Council: "We are deeply concerned about the escalation of violence in the Ivory Coast and that it could lead to a resurgence of civil war there."

It was just last week when the Gbagbo security forces shelled the Abobo neighborhood. You can see why the locals put up barricades against them. It was shocking to see how Gbagbo's Army was willing to use war-grade weapons upon unarmed civilians.

Since this most recent level of aggression, the new government of Ouattara has been forced to arm for self-defense. What was once a peaceful resistance is now an armed one. Ouattara's camp is led by rebels from the north as well as soldiers who have been defecting from Gbagbo's Army.

A veritable parade of delegations from African leaders have visited Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial hub, to convince Gbagbo to leave office. Of course, Gbagbo is defiant, rejecting all suggestions and proposals, even offers of amnesty.

Gbagbo lost the election in November by 500,000 votes. He grew angry at the United Nations, ordering them of the country, accusing them of meddling in state affairs. Read that as Gbagbo was unable to spin the election results in his favor.

Please remember these women - and this country - in your prayers.

International Womens Day is 8 March 2011.

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