U.N.: Families Trapped in Ivory Coast Church

Published March 1, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — The U.N. said armed men blocked some 60 families without food or water from leaving a church Tuesday, as one man who escaped the violence-plagued neighborhood described "fleeing the smell of the dead."

The U.N.'s refugee agency expressed alarm about the dire conditions facing people trying to get out of the Abobo district of Abidjan after days of violence there.

"There are reports of many dead bodies, buses burned and shops looted, and of young militiamen attacking people inside their homes," the agency said in a statement.

One man, Jean Bleou, said Abobo was quickly becoming uninhabitable. Several dozen people have been killed over the past week in bloody clashes.

"I saw at least seven bodies on my way out," he said. "We were fleeing the smell of the dead."

Sitting president Laurent Gbagbo has refused to cede power three months after the U.N. said Alassane Ouattara won the election.

The standoff already has claimed the lives of hundreds of Ouattara supporters, victims of targeted assassinations and "disappearances" carried out at night by security forces loyal to Gbagbo. The conflict has reached a new level of intensity as commandos allied with Ouattara infiltrated Abobo.

They struck back, killing police and transforming the nature of the conflict from one pitting the police against unarmed demonstrators to one between two armed forces.

On Tuesday, hundreds of government employees lined up in front of local banks in Abidjan to receive their paychecks.

Teacher Marcelin Gnahe said he received his full pay of about $500 but was worried about the future.

"It's like someone has put a bag over your head and sealed it," he said.

The regional central bank headquartered in Senegal has frozen Gbagbo's access to state accounts, threatening his ability to continue paying civil servants. Major international banks have shuttered their operations in Ivory Coast amid the uncertainty, prompting panic among customers.

Multiple delegations of African leaders have come through Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial hub, in an attempt to persuade Gbagbo to leave office. Gbagbo has rejected all their proposals, including offers of amnesty and a comfortable exile abroad.

Opponents are trying to strangle his administration financially, and the European Union has prohibited European ships from docking in its port.

Meanwhile, the government said Tuesday it is banning residents from filling jerrycans with gas as fears of a shortage grow. Motorists in Abidjan rushed to fill up their car's tanks, then went home to siphon the gas into a jerrycan, in an effort to stockpile. Some gas stations have already run out of supplies and closed.


Written by  RUKMINI CALLIMACHI,Associated Press

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