ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) - The entrance to the morgue is like a mouth through which comes an awful smell. It hits you as far back as the parking lot and makes your eyes water. From a dozen yards away, it's strong enough to make you throw up.
What lies inside is proof of mass killings in this once-tranquil country of 21 million, where the sitting president is refusing to give way to his successor. Nearly every day since Laurent Gbagbo was declared the loser of the Nov. 28 election, the bodies of people who voted for his opponent have been showing up on the sides of highways.
Their distraught families have gone from police station to police station looking for them, but the bodies are hidden in plain sight in morgues turned into mass graves. Records obtained by The Associated Press from four of the city's nine morgues show that at least 113 bullet-ridden bodies have been brought in since the election. The number is likely much higher because the AP was refused access to the five other morgues, including one where the United Nations believes as many as 80 bodies were taken.
The bodies are being held hostage and not released to families. Morgue workers say government minders are stationed outside to monitor what goes in or out.
A list of the dead that the AP was allowed to see on the laptop of a company that manages three downtown morgues shows the bodies began arriving Dec. 1, the night the country's electoral commission was due to announce that opposition leader Alassane Ouattara had won. The AP also saw legal documents from authorities instructing funeral homes to pick up bodies found on public roads, and the paperwork handed to families.
The names of the dead indicate they are largely Muslim and from the country's north, the demographic that voted in largest numbers for Ouattara, himself a Muslim from the north.
"The overwhelming number of victims of political violence in Abidjan were either real or perceived supporters of Ouattara," said Human Rights Watch senior researcher Corinne Dufka, the author of a report on the post-election violence. "Many were picked up and killed simply on the basis of their family name."
Families have been allowed inside the morgues only long enough to identify their relatives, if at all. They cannot take their loved ones for burial because the government, still controlled by Gbagbo, has not given the go-ahead for autopsies on bodies with bullet wounds. Funeral home directors say the procedure is normally approved within 48 hours.
Diaby Madoussou, 40, has been waiting for two months. She found her husband lying face down on the pavement where he had taken part in a march to support Ouattara, recognized internationally as the winner of the vote. Ouattara now lives in a hotel under 24-hour United Nations protection, its lobby crowded with supporters taking refuge.
Madoussou turned over her husband's body. He had been shot twice in the ribs.
She took off her pagne and used the wraparound skirt to cover him. She waited beside him wearing only her underclothes until the morgue sent a car to pick up the body. They handed her a 'fiche d'entree,' or entry sheet stating that his body would be stored in vault No. 50 in a morgue in the outlying suburb of Anyama.
"They told me that I need to leave the body there. At the morgue. They say I need to wait ... I don't understand. Why won't they let me take him?" said Madoussou, who has five children. She now spends her days on the floor, her back against the concrete wall of her living room, her eyes staring at the other wall.
Many families have only this piece of paper to prove that their loved ones were killed, because police stations are refusing to file police reports. Dozens of victims were seen dragged from their homes and forced into official vehicles.
Gbagbo's government has denied committing any abuses. However, assistant state prosecutor Jean-Claude Aboya conceded that autopsies have not been conducted.
"We're aware of these bodies in the morgues," said Aboya. "The chief prosecutor has told us that there will be an investigation, but he's holding off until things are calmer before proceeding."
Bodies have also been found on highways, freeway medians and trash heaps, and in the lagoons coursing through this palm-lined commercial capital that was once considered among the most stable in Africa.
It has been anything but that since Gbagbo came to power 10 years ago. He signed an alphabet soup of treaties named after the numerous capitals from Lome to Pretoria to Ouagadougou where mediators tried to coax Gbagbo to hold an election. He succeeded in pushing back the election for five years until it was finally held last fall.
In the meantime, a civil war broke out and the country's lagoon-side cafes emptied out. The fighting pitted northerners who wanted Gbagbo out against southerners who supported him.
Now the shores of the glassy lagoon lap up trash. The few cafe clients left are nearly all men, because those who could sent their wives abroad