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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 September 2006, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Toxic waste adds to Ivory Coast's woes
By James Copnall
BBC News, Abidjan

Few people in Ivory Coast would have thought their government of national unity would have been brought down by a scandal over toxic waste.

Ivory Coast protester
The protests were angry but Abidjan has seen far bigger in recent years
The mass resignation is unprecedented in the country.

It is a strange and fragile institution, composed of the ruling party, the political opposition, civil society and the rebels who control the north of the country.

It was set up following the Marcoussis peace agreement of January 2003 which ended the bulk of the fighting in the civil war but is frequently criticised as un-natural and inefficient.

The anger over the government's slow response to the scandal is real enough.

Furious Ivorians, many of them wearing facemasks to protect themselves from the toxic threat, took over many streets in the main city, Abidjan, over the last few days.

Some held placards: "They are killing us for money," read one.

"They sold off our health," was another.


The mainly young protesters occasionally burnt tires, and complained they were driven off by heavy-handed police.

But the protests, fervent as they were, were localised, and not of a scale to make a government tremble, especially one used to dealing with many crises.

I'm feeling very bad in the throat and I have headaches and I cannot breathe properly
Abidjan resident

At the university teaching hospital of Cocody, which has set up a special unit to deal with the toxic waste victims, the mood swung between anger and fear.

"I am ill, I was intoxicated in my neighbourhood, Akouedo," said Guy.

"The smell is very strong, like a mixture of gas and steel. I am asthmatic, and I passed out.

"It is a crime against humanity. They sold away the lives of the people of this country, for crumbs," he said, referring to the belief that people employed by the state knew the products were toxic but were paid off to turn a blind eye.

More than 1,500 people have sought treatment so far, and three people have died.

Doctor not sure

"I am very scared," said Eric, who - like many - complained that he would have to pay for his medicine, despite a government promise that it would be free.

The last act of Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny's government was to create a special fund to help those affected by the waste.

Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny
The mass resignation of the PM's cabinet was unprecedented
One doctor confided that he and his colleagues were not completely sure of the content of the toxic waste, and advised concerned patients not to drink milk in case the waste was radioactive.

Pauline, a young mother accompanied by four children, received even more startling advice.

"The doctor gave me a prescription, and then told me the only real cure is to move house.

"I live in an affected area - but I cannot afford to move, so what can I do?"

Prime Minster Banny's new government will need to deal with just this problem.

But the frenzy of mutual accusation which this scandal has thrown up - in which the port authority and the ministry of transport are each blaming the other - indicates some of the problems of a government of national unity.

The port is in the hands of the ruling FPI party, while Transport Minister Anaky Kobena leads the opposition MFA party.

The mudslinging has strong political undertones, and hints at the difficulties of running a country with a divided government.

That will not change in Prime Minister Banny's new cabinet, and though Ivory Coast's messy peace process has taken a back seat, this toxic waste scandal shows yet again just how urgent it is that the Ivorian crisis be resolved.

Angry citizens take to the streets in Ivory Coast


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