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March 9 2011

Abidjan (Ivory Coast) - Christian and Muslim Religious leaders of Koumassi district asking the Community of Sant'Egidio for help to "make peace" and avoid the outbreak of violence

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These are days of great tension in Ivory Coast. The prolonged political crisis started with the presidential elections of November 2010, is generating ongoing violence between ethnic and religious groups.

In many quarters of the economic capital, Abidjan, there were clashes, which seem to herald a veritable civil war between supporters of the two Presidents Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, who - both believed to have won the election - don't whow any will to open a dialogue or reach an agreement.

A few days ago, in the populous district of Koumassi, some young people, mostly Muslims, have threatened to burn the Catholic Church, in revenge for the burning of a mosque that took place in another area of the city.

But a delegation of the two warring factions, along with religious leaders of the district (Muslims and Christians together) have then addressed to the Community of Sant'Egidio, which for years has a School of Peace in Koumassi, asking for help to avoid further violence.

Within hours, a meeting was organized in the heart of the neighborhood, next to the church threatened. All present: Ouattara and Gbagbo supporters, leaders of the district, responsible for the local municipality, the parish priest, the chaplain of the young, a Methodist minister and four imams.

The meeting, chaired by Georges Adon, head of Sant'Egidio in Ivory Coast, lasted three hours. There have been tensions, but it was eventually agreed on some points:

- The protection and respect for sacred places (churches and mosques) because "they are the mirror of our conscience: if they were destroyed we could no longer mirror in them, with the result that we would no longer feel shame of anything, and violence would have no limit;

- Renunciation of violence as a dispute resolution and the call for assistance to the Community of Sant'Egidio to settle whenever a recurrence would occur;

- The creation of some "vigilance committees", composed of all civil and religious components attending the meeting, to report promptly any episodes of violence as soon as they show.

Meeting and talking with the help of the Community, has led to calm people.

People who live together for years, neighbors, colleagues, thus found the strength to withstand the weight of violent propaganda which incites hatred.

The Assembly will convene again in the coming days to assess the situation and implement the agreement.

Together they also decided to "export" this method of reconciliation in other areas at risk and in other cities, to pick up a demand for peace that exists in the country, which, however, until now, local politicians and the international community did not know answer.



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