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Reprisals against pro-Gbagbo journalists continue; opposition press re-emerges

After a deadly power struggle in Côte d'Ivoire in which at least 3,000 died, a million were displaced and journalists faced attacks by both sides, Alassane Ouattara was officially sworn in as President on 21 May. But the media is still operating in a climate of fear and atrocities continue. A journalist who openly supported former President Laurent Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) was killed in early May and others have gone into hiding - despite the reappearance of opposition newspapers, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to Amnesty International, forces allied with both Gbagbo and Ouattara committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the post-election conflict. Gbagbo was finally forced out of his presidential bunker by pro-Ouattara forces with French military backing on 11 April. But several weeks after coming to power, reprisal attacks by forces loyal to Ouattara persist, even though he has promised peace and reconciliation. His inauguration was attended by 20 other national leaders and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

Local press freedom group Ivorian Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CIPJ) reported the discovery of the bullet-ridden body of journalist Lago Sylvain Gagnetaud, who was assistant editor at Radio Yopougon. The 42-year-old was found in a mass grave with dozens of other bodies in Yopougon, the largest neighbourhood in the economic capital Abidjan, the same weekend Ouattara officially became President.

A family member claims Gagnetaud was gunned down by the republican forces of the Ivory Coast (the French acronym is FRCI) - who backed Ouattara against Gbagbo - as he fled from Yopougon with his family. (Some say Gagnetaud was killed for being a journalist and because his station was under the control of a town councilman who belonged to Gbagbo's party.) RSF reports he was executed along with youths suspected of being militiamen. Local journalists said the FRCI fighters later burned down the community station, Radio Yopougon, forcing the station's staff into hiding, including the editor, Paule-Benedicte Tagro Guyemane.

Gagnetaud was the secretary-general of the Organisation of Professional Journalists of Côte d'Ivoire (OJPCI) and had also worked for the pro-Ouattara Olympe media group and the daily "Le Jeune Démocrate", which is close to Gbagbo's party, according to CIPJ.

As FRCI forces continue to roam through Abidjan, allegedly in search of weapons, journalists live in fear. Last week, journalists Ferdinand Bailly and Florida Basile Bahi went into hiding after being denounced as "Gbagbo journalists" by local youths in the streets, says CIPJ.

In another episode, the director of the company which publishes the daily "Le Temps", Nina Bolou, was arrested and released the same day on 24 May; she was questioned about her newspaper's support for Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front. According to RSF, this abduction was designed to intimidate the newspaper's staff, days before it was expected to restart publishing.

In a positive turn, "Notre Voie", a daily that supports former President Gbagbo's FPI, was available on newsstands again on 23 May in Abidjan for the first time since Gbagbo was ousted in April. According to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the printing press of the publishers of "Notre Voie" was destroyed by arsonists in late April. Other pro-Gbagbo newspapers such as "Le Nouveau Courrier d'Abidjan", "Le Quotidien d'Abidjan" and "Prestige Mag" are expected to resume publishing.

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