- President Laurent Gbagbo has accepted the unprecedented resignation of Côte d'Ivoire's cabinet as anger mounts over the dumping of toxic waste in the country's main city, Abidjan, that made hundreds ill. Charles Konan Banny however retains his position as Prime Minister. President Gbagbo asked him to propose a new government as soon as today.
"You need to understand that nothing is above the health of Ivorians. You need to understand that we cannot kill Ivorians just like that. Death has been sown in a voluntary or involuntary manner - justice will decide," President Gbagbo said after an emergency meeting in the capital, Yamoussoukro.
The waste, which was discarded in various residential areas, is residue from gasoline cargo shipped to Abidjan's port last month. The health scandal adds to an already tense atmosphere in Côte d'Ivoire as talks on Tuesday to break a deadlock over the country's peace process failed.
On Wednesday and Thursday, hundreds of people in Abidjan threw up barricades in protest over the toxic waste, brandishing placards accusing the government of negligence. Hundreds of people had sought treatment in Abidjan hospitals after breathing the noxious, toxic fumes. The Ivorian Health Ministry said three people had died and 1,500 others had suffered ill effects from the waste.
Hubert Oulay, presidential spokesman, announced on Wednesday the provision of safe water, better security around the contaminated sites and free medical treatment for people who had fallen ill from the waste. In a further bid to reassure the population, authorities have begun locating the dumping sites. So far, nine spots have been identified, including drains, diplomats said.
Aid workers told the UN media 'IRIN' that Côte d'Ivoire has appealed for US$ 13.5 million to deal with the situation. But UN agencies and Western embassies said they first wanted to investigate the polluted sites before committing further. Teams from the UN and World Health Organisation have begun visiting the dumps. France plans to send six experts to Côte d'Ivoire on Friday, Western officials said.
"The humanitarian community is ready to intervene, but for a start we need to know the results of the experts' investigations. Nothing has been done so far and we do not have information on which drugs are needed," a humanitarian source said.
After gasoline from the Netherlands-based commodities trading firm Trafigura Beheer BV, specialising in petrol, gasoline and base metals, was unloaded two weeks ago a local company was charged with discarding the residue, according to Trafigura.
In July, the Netherlands refused to accept the waste, which contained the noxious chemicals hydrogen sulphide and mercaptan, because of their toxicity and the cost of clean-up, according to media reports in Europe.
A report by the Ivorian Anti-Pollution Centre (CIAPOL), says hydrogen sulphide is "a toxic substance that can lead to immediate death when inhaled".
"We do not know yet the extent of the catastrophe, but what the politicians understand is that the consequences on the population are very serious," a Western diplomat said. "There is a gap between the politicians and the population. They feel utterly helpless, abandoned by the authorities who do nothing for the country, only for themselves."
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