Thousands of Ivorian opposition supporters marched peacefully through Abidjan yesterday to protest against what they said was President Laurent Gbagbo’s stranglehold on the state media and election-delaying tactics.
Watched by heavily armed riot police, some 3000 demonstrators marched towards the offices of the state-run Ivorian Radio and Television (RTI) broadcaster. Protestors chanted slogans calling for Gbagbo to give opposition parties equal access to the state media and hurry up with the polls.
Political tensions are rising in the top cocoa grower as Ivory Coast approaches the campaign period for an election meant to end years of stalemate following a 2002-3 war that split the country in two, leaving the north in the hands of rebels.
Opposition presidential candidates Henri Konan Bedie and Alassane Ouattara have complained of being marginalised by the national press, saying state broadcasters or pro-Gbagbo private media are giving the incumbent an unfair advantage.
“Equal access to state media is guaranteed to all by the law,” said a statement read out by opposition youth leader Karamoko Yayoro. “We condemn the stranglehold of the media (exercised) by the candidate Laurent Gbagbo’s clan.”
Despite widespread fears of violence and a police roadblock preventing protestors marching onto RTI’s offices, the demonstration remained peaceful throughout.
The vote has been repeatedly postponed since 2005 but is currently scheduled for around early March. The opposition accuses Gbagbo of deliberately holding back the process to extend his mandate, a charge he denies.
After years of political instability and limbo, many Ivorians are desperate to draw a line under a crisis that has paralysed the economy and scared off investors in what was once West Africa’s economic powerhouse.
“We are in a situation of total hopelessness,” said protester Pascal Noe, 28, unemployed. “Gbagbo has brought us war and nothing else. We want out of this crisis.”