Abidjan - Almost 500 people detained in Ivory Coast in the wake of the country's 2010-2011 post-election bloodshed have gone on hunger strike to protest their continued detention, a source with the penitentiary system said on Thursday.
A total of about 480 are under medical observation after starting hunger strikes across the country, with about 70 prisoners taking part in Abidjan's Maca facility, the prisons official told AFP, asking not to be identified.
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"The fundamental reason for the hunger strike apart from the long detention is our health which is deteriorating in the face of difficult conditions, and the breaking up of our families," one prisoner at Abidjan's Maca facility said.
"If they can't bring us to trial, then let us go so we can get better," said the prisoner, who said he had been in the Maca since March 2013 and was losing sight in his left eye.
Ivory Coast plunged into violent political chaos in 2010-2011 after supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo fought with those of the winner in the November 2010 election, President Alassane Ouattara.
At least 3 000 people were killed. Gbagbo is imprisoned at the International Criminal Court in The Hague where he faces four counts of crimes against humanity in a trial expected to begin at the end of 2015.
But the delays in bringing to trial people imprisoned after the violence have come under widespread criticism.
A spokesperson for wives of the prisoners, Desiree Douati - daughter of Alphonse Douati, a minister in Gbagbo's government - said "the end of the strike depends on the government".
At least nine wives have also gone on hunger strike and "were arrested, then released on Wednesday, after demonstrating in front of the justice ministry", she said.