Ivory Coast president cuts off power and water to north

Millions of people in rebel-controlled region left without vital supplies as country moves towards civil war

Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to cede the presidency to Alassane Ouattara, has also launched a crackdown on press loyal to his rival. Photograph: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

The Ivory Coast president, Laurent Gbagbo, has cut off electricity and water supplies to millions of people in the north of the country “for political reasons”, the UN has said.

The national power company reported that armed men entered its buildings on Monday night and ordered the shutdown, the latest step in an increasingly violent move towards civil war.

“The statement of the electricity company (says) this energy shortage is not due to technical issues,” a UN official, Ndolamb Ngokwey, told the BBC. “They clearly said it has to do with the political situation, so it was cut for political reasons.”

A war eight years ago divided the country into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south. Issia Doumbia, a spokesman for the New Forces rebels, who control the north and are loyal to Gbagbo’s rival Alassane Ouattara, told the Associated Press: “Millions of people across the north are without water or electricity. During the entire war, Gbagbo never cut the people off. But now, things are turning bad fast.”

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Ivory Coast on brink of civil war as seven women killed at protest march

Military says shootings were ‘blunder we regret’ as once stable nation faces meltdown

A picture allegedly shows the body of one of the seven women shot dead in Abobo, a working class neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Seven women have been massacred during a peaceful protest in Ivory Coast as the country appeared to stand on the brink of all-out civil war.

More than 200,000 people have fled, and the nation that was once a model of stability in west Africa is now experiencing bloodshed and economic meltdown.

The women’s demonstration became a scene of terror when security forces opened fire with machine guns in Abobo, a sprawling, impoverished suburb of the commercial capital, Abidjan, where some of the deadliest clashes have taken place during three months of crisis.

They were about to set off from a roundabout on a march to call on Laurent Gbagbo to step down as president. “Men in uniform drove up and started shooting randomly. Six women died on the spot,” Idrissa Diarrassouba told Reuters. A seventh died in hospital. Many others were wounded.

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.”

Read moreIvory Coast on brink of civil war as seven women killed at protest march

Bank Run: Ivory Coast Banks, Stock Exchange Close

Ivory Coast’s financial system is grinding to a halt with banks closing and the stock market suspended, sparking a run on the banks left open as the West African nation’s political crisis drags on.

(Bloomberg) — Ivory Coast’s financial system is grinding to a halt with banks closing and the stock market suspended, sparking a run on the lenders left open as the West African nation’s political crisis drags on.

Standard Chartered Plc, Citigroup Inc., BNP Paribas SA and Societe Generale SA have all closed their units in the world’s top cocoa producer because of security fears after a disputed Nov. 28 vote left the country with two rival administrations. Bank Atlantique Cote D’Ivoire, the country’ second-biggest bank, said on its website that it has suspended its operations.

The Central Bank of West African States has demanded banks in the region halt all transactions with its agencies in Ivory Coast after the offices were seized by Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president. Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of the election, has also called on companies to stop paying taxes to Gbagbo’s administration and told coffee and cocoa shippers to halt exports for one month in a bid to starve Gbagbo of funds.

Read moreBank Run: Ivory Coast Banks, Stock Exchange Close

Bank Run In Ivory Coast

Last August, Anthony Ward’s Amajaro fund tried, and failed, to corner the cocoa market. He may have been half a year early, as the country may soon let cocoa speculators (at least those on the long side) finally enjoy their day in the sun. After an ongoing political crisis has left the country with two presidents, neither of which is willing to abdicate power peacefully, and technically bankrupt the latest development is the logical: a countrywide bank run.

The Globe and Mail reports that the world’s largest exporter of cocoa, which has now effectively been isolated by the global banking system, following its technical default on $2.3 billion in bonds, is seeing bank after bank shut down as residents are scrambling to withdraw whatever money is available in the financial system.

“A third bank shut its doors Wednesday amid a political crisis in Ivory Coast, as residents in the commercial hub lined up at banks to try to withdraw their savings amid rumours of a cash shortage. British bank Standard Chartered confirmed in an e-mail Wednesday that it had suspended its operations in Ivory Coast, joining two other banks, BICICI and Citibank, and the regional stock exchange.

Hundreds of people marched from one bank to the next in downtown Abidjan Wednesday afternoon, trying to find a working bank machine.” Well, not really a bank run. More like a bank march. However, unlike Egypt, we don’t anticipate the government (one of the two), to start flying in hundreds of millions in currency to placate the mob.

From Globe and Mail:

“They say all the banks are going to close,” said high school guidance counsellor Albert Kramo. “I’ve been to three banks today to try and get out some money before it’s too late.”

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Trafigura scandal: Papers prove ship dumped toxic waste in Ivory Coast

Message to Trafigura for destroying the environment and people’s lives:


A Dutch team tackle the waste left in Abidjan. Photograph: Issouf Sanogo/AFP

We have received a complaint from solicitors acting for Trafigura about this article.

Read Trafigura’s statement here

Documents have emerged which detail for the first time the potentially lethal nature of toxic waste dumped by British-based oil traders in one of west Africa’s poorest countries.

More than 30,000 people from Ivory Coast claim they were affected by the ­poisonous cocktail and are currently bringing Britain’s biggest-ever group lawsuit against the company, Trafigura.

The firm chartered the ship, Probo Koala, which transported the cargo to Ivory Coast in 2006.

An official Dutch analysis of samples of the waste carried by the Probo Koala indicate that it contained approximately 2 tonnes of hydrogen sulphide, a killer gas with a characteristic smell of rotten eggs.

The documents have been obtained by the BBC. One chemist told BBC Newsnight last night that if the same quantity and mixture of chemicals had been dumped in Trafalgar Square: “You would have people being sick for several miles around … millions of people.”

Read moreTrafigura scandal: Papers prove ship dumped toxic waste in Ivory Coast

The food crisis begins to bite

Rioting in Haiti. Rationing in America. Queues in Egypt. Protests in Afghanistan. As the price of food continues to soar, the impact is being felt by people around the globe


The roaring economy and an ever expanding middle class have had a particularly profound effect on food prices, particularly rice and wheat. Because of industrialisation, rice planting fell from 33 million hectares in 1983 to 29 million by 2006 and China now imports more than ever, placing a major strain on international supplies. Despite freezing prices, rampant inflation means the cost of food has risen by 21 per cent this year.


In a land where supposedly the rich are thin and the poor are overweight, one of the largest cash and carry stores, Sam’s Club, announced this week it would limit customers to take home a maximum of four bags of rice. The move came a day after Costco Wholesale Corp, the biggest US warehouse-club operator, limited bulk rice purchases in some stores and warned that customers had begun stockpiling certain goods.


Even during times of relative stability, North Korea has shown itself to be inept at feeding its population. During the 1990s a famine caused by poor harvests killed an estimated two to three million people. On Wednesday the World Food Programme warned that the country could again be plunged into famine because of the spiralling cost of rice and there was an estimated shortfall of 1.6 million tons of rice and wheat.


Up to 50 million Egyptians rely on subsidised bread and this year Cairo has estimated it will cost $2.5bn. But with the price of wheat rocketing in the past year there are fears the country has plunged into a “bread crisis”. Queues are now double the length they were a year ago. Inflation hit 12.1 per cent in February with prices for dairy goods up 20 per cent and cooking oils 40 per cent


Latin American countries were some of the first nations to voice their concern at rising wheat prices, particularly after thousands of people in Mexico took to the streets at the beginning of 2007 to take part in the so-called “Tortilla Protests”. This week the presidents of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba’s vice-president flew to Caracas to announce a joint $100m scheme to combat the impact of rising food prices on the region’s poor.


On Wednesday Brazil became the latest major rice producer to temporarily suspend exports because of soaring costs and domestic shortages. In recent weeks Latin American countries and African nations have asked for up to 500,000 tons of rice from Brazil which will now not be delivered. Brazil’s agricultural ministry has said it has to ensure that the country has at least enough rice reserves to last the next six to eight months.


Some of the worst instability resulting from high food prices has been felt in West Africa. One person was killed and dozens were injured last month as riots tore through Ivory Coast after the prices of meat and wheat increased by 50 per cent within a week. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo was forced to cut taxes to halt the disorder. Violent protests have also broken out in Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Senegal.


There have been street protests about the soaring cost of food in a country almost entirely reliant on imports of wheat. Already utterly impoverished, the plight of Afghans has worsened because Pakistan has cut its regular flour supply. The government has sought to assure citizens that there is sufficient food and has set aside $50m for additional imports. The price of wheat has risen by around 60 per cent in the last year.


The price of rice in the world’s largest exporter rose to $1,000 a ton yesterday and experts warned that it will continue to rise. This is because of the massive demand from the Philippines which is struggling to secure supplies after India and several other producers halted exports. The government has said it can meet the export requests. Indonesia has said it is withholding purchases for a year because prices are so high.


Hundreds of thousands of poor Africans in Uganda and Sudan are to lose out on a vital source of food after one of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations said it was cutting aid to 1.5m people. Dave Toycen, president of World Vision Canada, blamed soaring costs and countries failing to live up to aid commitments for the fact that the number of people the charity can help will fall by almost a quarter.


The country as added to the problems facing many countries in the region by halting its export of rice, except for its premium basmati product. This has left countries normally reliant on Indian exports, such as the Philippines, searching for alternative supplies. India has more than half of the world’s hungriest people and its priority is to safeguard domestic supply. But it too has watched as the cost of food has soared, not just rice but cooking oil, pulses and even vegetables. India has this year forecast a record grain harvest but experts warned farm productivity will have to rise much faster if the nation is to feed its 1.1bn people and avoid a food security crisis. Around two-thirds of India’s population are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods but agriculture is growing much more slowly than the overall economy.


The poorest country in the Western hemisphere has seen a three to four-fold increase in the number of so-called boat people trying to leave because of food shortages. Already gripped by wretched poverty, the food crisis triggered riots that led to the death of six people. Haiti’s wretched food security situation is a result of “liberalisation measures” forced on the country after former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was returned to power.


The government has been desperately trying to secure alternative sources of rice to counteract the decision of a number of nations to halt rice exports. The country’s National Food Authority, which handles rice imports for the government, has now said it plans to increase imports 42 per cent to 2.7m tons this year. This could cost $1.3bn if it does not increase the price of the subsidised rice it is selling to people. But the Philippines is responsible for producing 85 per cent of its own food and international experts believe the country will handle this crisis. The government has also been encouraging consumers and even fast food restaurants to be more frugal and be careful not to waste food. The government is confident it will be able to source sufficient supplies from Vietnam and Thailand.


Less vulnerable to food price fluctuations than emerging nations, but food prices across Europe have nonetheless increased. In Britain wholesale prices of food have increased by 7.4 per cent over the past 12 months, roughly three times the headline rate of inflation. According to the government’s own statistics grocery bills have gone up by an average of £750 over the same period, the equivalent of a 12 per cent rise.

By Jerome Taylor and Andrew Buncombe
Friday, 25 April 2008

Source: The Independent