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Abidjan's pulsing Princess Road razed in clean-up

13 august 2011, 19:47
Abidjan's most famous fun street has lost its smile: Princess Road, known for its parties and music, has been mowed down by bulldozers, swept away in a vigorous government clean-up, AFP reports.

"A black Saturday," mourned a weekend regular after the machines moved in and did their damage.

Kadjona, Metropolis and Cyclone are among dozens of discos, bars and small restaurants called maquis that were torn down, never again to throb to the the Ivory Coast's zouglou and "coupé décalé" dance music.

In the rubble of the demolition, only the thin strain of a tune from a lonely speaker pierced the silent and gloomy street in the city's western Yopougon suburb when a reporter visited last week.

The newly installed government of President Alassane Ouattara launched its operation "clean country" a few weeks ago, aiming to clear out the shabby stalls crowding the pavements, and garages and car washes intruding into the streets.

With the economic capital left even more dirty and shabby than ever by this year's post-election battle that saw 10 days of fighting in the city, the drive targets structures thrown up in violation of any attempt at urban planning.

After 20 years in existence, the end was quick for Princess Road, one of the city's main entertainment hubs which also had a seedy side, becoming notorious for its prostitution.

"We were informed at 10:00 pm and the next morning at 8:00 am the machines were sent in for the demolition operation," said Ibovic Ouattara, manager of Cyclone.

"It really hurts me," added bar owner Guillaume Taki Kouakou, who had just taken out a loan to expand his establishment, the Metropolis.

Martin Kouame, who ran the trendy Jackpot, was devastated to find himself among the nearly 1,000 people who had worked on "The Street" now without jobs. "I feel like crying," he said.

-- Like Paris' Pigalle --

The authorities should rather have "promoted this cultural heritage" than demolish it, said Kouame.

Princess Road was a tourist draw, rather like Paris's Pigalle, added a resident, referring to the French capital's neon-lit street of bars, sex shops and cabaret.

Among its more famous locals was Ivorian football star Didier Drogba. In 20O8 then president Laurent Gbagbo brought French politician and former minister Jack Lang to the area for a visit.

It also inspired the 1993 film "Rue Princesse" by the late French-Ivorian director Henri Duparc.

But not everyone was a fan.

"I am in favour of its destruction," said Mamy Ezan, a mother who says she wants a "clean city".

"The depraved behaviour had reached unprecedented levels," she said.

The bulldozers have also been at work in the more chic northern suburb of Cocody and southern Koumassi area, on the road to the airport.

But loyalists of Gbagbo, who drew the country into a four-month conflict by refusing to accept he lost elections in November, wonder if the clean up of Yopougon had a political slant.

The area is a stronghold of supporters of Gbagbo and saw days of street battles between his forces and those of Ouattara before and after the ex-president was arrested on April 11, ending the post-election showdown.

"Ouattara promised jobs, he created unemployment," said the Our Way newspaper of Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front party in a comment on the razing of Princess Road.

"The reasons could be political, with the Yopougon commune making up the biggest stronghold" of Gbagbo, it said.

But with prostitution, rubbish in the street, a constant din, there were "enormous complaints from residents," said Urban Health Minister Anne Ouloto.

"We are not against Princess Street," she said, hinting at a new life for the area with bars and maquis "that respect norms".

Clean-ups would continue to target businesses and homes built without authorisation, she said.

"The time of disorder, laxity and irresponsibility is over," Ouloto said.

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