Gbagbo's 'Young Patriots' take the law into their own hands

Screenshot from the film taken by Lookman, Observer at France 24.
 
For the past three days in the Yopougon neighbourhood of Abidjan, the flow of traffic has been controlled by "committees" created by supporters of Ivory Coast’s incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo. The country has been at a political standstill since a November 28 presidential run-off elected rival Alassane Ouattara, who remains the country's internationally recognised leader. The political dispute between Gbagbo and Ouattara has provoked fighting between supporters of both camps and forced more than 200,000 people to flee from their homes. As the impasse widens, FRANCE24 Observers report that pro-Gbagbo supporters have set up roadblocks to halt UN conveys and track down Ouattara supporters.
 
Those who defend Gbagbo’s claim to the helm of the country do not see UN soldiers as a peacekeeping force but as Ouattara’s personal military. Charles Blé Goudé, leader of Gbagbo’s Young Patriots, has called on his troops to "organise themselves into committees" to impede the movement of the UN "by any means" in a speech delivered before 3,000 people on February 25. He explained that, "these days it is not the rebels who wage war, but the UN which wages war on us".
 
Tensions between UN forces and the Gbagbo camp have increased over the past few days. UN peacekeeping forces were deployed to Ivory Coast back in December, but soldiers exchanged gunfire with Gbagbo’s Defence and Security Forces for the first time just last week, on the night of February 26.
 
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"I watched with my own eyes as they beat a man to death just because he was wearing an amulet"

 
Lookman is a resident of the Yopougon neighbourhood of Abidjan. He filmed this footage in the pro-Gbagbo neighbourhood of Toits Rouges in Yopougon on February 27.
 
Charles Blé Goudé asked his supporters to organise themselves into committees to track UN soldiers. But in reality, he was targeting ‘attackers’, opponents of Gbagbo. The young people of the neighbourhood, supervised by the Young Patriots, have taken him at his word. Ever since, Yopougon has been taken over by youths at roadblocks taking the law into their own hands.
 
 
 
At each barrier, the young people check the identity cards of the drivers and pedestrians. Those who are not from the neighbourhood are not allowed to pass. As you see on the video [at 29 seconds], some pay a backhander to continue their journey. But, more often, they search the car from top to bottom. If they find objects which are considered to be suspect, such as a knife, the situation worsens.
 
The youths that I saw were unarmed [according to the press, some were armed with clubs and machetes]. But that is more horrifying: I watched with my own eyes as they beat a man to death just because he was wearing an amulet. [Amulets are traditional objects that have been worn by the New Forces since the first Ivorian crisis of 2002-2007; the ex-rebel New Forces now support Alassane Ouattara.]

 
  "Anyone who represents the opposing party has become a target for the Young Patriots."
 
 
This video was filmed by our France 24 Observers in the Port-Bouët neighbourhood of Abidjan on Sunday, 27 February.
 
Tensions increased last Friday in Yopougon. Young activists from the Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace (RHDP) [the coalition that supports Ouattara] burned a bus from Abidjan’s transport company, which is a symbol of Gbagbo's authority. In retaliation, several gbakas [traditional taxi-minibuses, driven by Dioulas, Alassane Ouattara's ethnic group] were wrecked by the anti-riot brigade, controlled by Gbagbo. A little later that day, a mosque in the Yopougon-Sideci neighbourhood was targeted by the Young Patriots [Muslim Ivorians generally come from the north of the country, which favours Ouattara].
 
 
The mosque in the Youpougon-Sideci neighbourhood was burned down on Friday, 25 February. Photo taken by our Observer Ibrail5.
 
For the past two days, traffic has been held to a standstill in the neighbourhood, shops are closed and the RHDP supporters of Yopougon do not dare to leave their homes. Outside we see armed men in 4X4s. An atmosphere of civil war is palpable."
 
Article written in collaboration with Peggy Bruguière, journalist at France 24.
 
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