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Ivory Coast paralysed as civil servants stay home

One week after bitter fighting ended with the arrest of former president Laurent Gbagbo, government buildings remained largely unmanned on Monday as civil servants were slow to heed President Alassane Ouattara's orders to resume work.


AFP - Few civil servants heeded an appeal from Ivory Coast's new government to return to work Monday, leaving the organs of state still paralysed a week after the fall of strongman Laurent Gbagbo.

New President Alassane Ouattara's minister for civil servants was himself late for work, while elsewhere in main city Abidjan government employees complained of looted office equipment and rotting bodies in the street.

Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund official and long-time opposition figure, took charge on April 11 of the world's top cocoa grower when his forces stormed the presidential palace in Abidjan and seized Gbagbo.

At around 9:00 am (0900 GMT) Monday, a few people waited in front of the Post and Telecommunications building which remained closed despite Ouattara's call for civil servants to "imperatively" get back to work from 7:30 am.

"I've just got to work, the convoy was delayed," said Civil Service Minister Konan Gnamien, who arrived at his ministry at around 9:30 am from the Golf Hotel that has been his government's headquarters since late November.

A civil servant at the parliament said that when he arrived at work "there was a decomposing body" at the building's entrance.

"Looters have stolen all the computers, they've turned everything upside down," the worker said, asking not to be named. "I don't know if we'll be able to get back to work for two or three months."

Nevertheless, taxis and public buses filled with people could be seen travelling around the central Plateau business district that is also home to the presidential palace and government offices.

The area saw some of the fiercest fighting during 10 days of clashes between the rival presidents' forces ahead of Gbagbo's dramatic arrest in an operation backed by French and UN forces.

Troops from Ouattara's Republican Forces (FRCI) set up checkpoints at some crossroads, searching cars, an AFP journalist reported, with a few gunshots still heard Monday morning as FRCI troops sought to scare off looters.

Gbagbo -- who spent a decade in power -- had refused to accept defeat in November's presidential vote, provoking a violent stand-off even though the UN and the bulk of the international community had recognised Ouattara's victory.

The ex-president is under house arrest in the north of the country while former rebel fighters loyal to Ouattara patrol Abidjan along with UN peacekeepers and a force from former colonial master France.

Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front party said over the weekend it had noted the order for the state machinery to start functioning again, and urged an "end to the war" and the "increase in violence".

The country's largest student union also called on its members to disarm and heed Ouattara's reconciliation call.

Despite the peace calls, scenes of retribution were abundant at the weekend in Abidjan, a seaside port city known as the pearl of west Africa in its heyday.

Four youths were paraded in its teeming Yopougon quarter, a Gbagbo bastion, and accused of burning people alive. They were to be handed over to police.

Gbagbo's former foreign minister Alcide Djedje said he was being held in the town of Korhogo, which is seen as an Ouattara stronghold.

The disgraced leader's wife Simone, a firebrand politician, was meanwhile still in detention in Abidjan's luxury Golf Hotel which had served as a base for Ouattara during the long standoff, Djedje said.

Ouattara's government said about 70 people arrested with Gbagbo, including family members and house staff, were freed on Saturday.

Of the approximately 120 people detained with him, 30 members of his family, including his grandchildren, were released and taken to "a destination we are keeping confidential", Ouattara's justice minister said.

Another 38 people, mainly house staff including cooks and gardeners, were also released and "each has gone home", he said.

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