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Protests over toxic waste dumping get personal

Protesters angry about toxic waste dumping around Ivory Coast’s commercial capital attacked the country’s transport minister on Friday.
Protestors erect roadblock and light bonfire in Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan
Protests against the toxic waste dumped in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, turned violent Friday.Thierry Gouegnon / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Protesters angry about recent toxic waste dumping around Ivory Coast’s commercial capital attacked the country’s transport minister Friday, pulling him from his car at a roadblock and beating him, a party official said

The protesters recognized Transport Minister Innocent Kobenan Anaky in his car and then attacked the vehicle, said Joel N’Guessan, the vice president of Anaky’s party.

“They attacked him with anything they could find,” N’Guessan said. “Then they burnt his car.”

N’Guessan said Anaky managed to escape with injuries to his face.

Some 9,000 people have reported to health facilities in the weeks since the material apparently was illegally dumped around Abidjan, with 19 people requiring hospitalization, according to the Health Ministry. Spokesman Jean Denoman said six people died from exposure to the waste.

Hundreds of youth blocked the road to the main garbage disposal site in Abidjan on Friday and burned tires and shouted in protest. Police arrived to try to contain the situation.

“People want to breathe. They have the impression that nobody is doing anything, while this is a national catastrophe,” said a protester in his 20s who only gave his name as Major.

Abidjan residents began complaining of an offensive stench in recent weeks and Trafigura Beheer B.V., a Dutch-based commodities company, said a local contractor may have improperly disposed of a byproduct from a fuel shipment sent to the West African nation.

Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny said Thursday that he has launched an investigation into the dumping and suspended three high-ranking officials: the general manager of the Abidjan port, the general manager of customs, and the governor of Abidjan district.

A U.N. report issued Thursday said up to 14 open-air sites have been contaminated by toxic waste. Previously 11 sites had been reported contaminated.

Eight of the sites already have been confirmed, including the main garbage dump, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, adding that the full extent of the toxic spill was not yet clear.

Among the substances found in the petrochemical waste are hydrogen sulfide and hydrocarbons, which can be harmful to humans and the environment, OCHA said.

Three experts from the World Health Organization will visit Abidjan’s hospitals to evaluate the health consequences and establish how many people have been affected, said WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib. People were suffering from respiratory problems, headaches, vomiting and nosebleeds, she said.

The black substance was discovered by residents, who took to the streets last week to complain about persistent health problems and a pervading smell of rotten eggs near their homes.

Mounting public anger resulted in the resignation of a postwar, power-sharing government last week. Banny, who remains in office, was expected to announce a new Cabinet by the end of this week.

Authorities have arrested seven people in connection with the dumping, including three customs officials and a high-ranking official at the Transport Ministry, according to local news reports.