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Ivorians brace for poll results in fiercely contested presidential election

Ivory Coast officials tallied results Sunday after a tense presidential election marked by an opposition boycott and clashes that killed at least two over President Alassane Ouattara’s bid for a third term. 

Scattered unrest, vandalised voting material and some closed polling stations were reported mostly in opposition strongholds during Saturday’s election although Ouattara had appealed for calm and his party was expecting a win.

At least two people died in clashes on Saturday in central Tiebissou and Oume, northwest of Abidjan, a security source said, though a local mayor of Tiebissou said four were killed in his town.

Opposition leaders held a press conference on Sunday calling for a “civil transition” from Ouattara’s government, saying they considered the president’s mandate over after Saturday’s ballot.

At least 30 people were killed in clashes before the vote, reviving fears of a repeat of the West African nation’s 2010-2011 post-election crisis when 3,000 people died after then president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by Ouattara.

On Saturday, protests degenerated into clashes between ethnic communities who back rival political factions in Tiebissou, Oume, Yopougon, a poor Abidjan district, and in the central western town of Gboguhe, according to witnesses.

According to the office of Tiebissou’s mayor, a member of Ouattara’s ruling RHDP party, some of the 27 injured in the town had gunshot and stab wounds.

The country’s political feuds are often linked with ethnic identities and regional loyalties.

Tensions erupted in August after Ouattara, in power for ten years, announced he would run for a third term, angering opposition leaders who dismissed it as an unconstitutional “electoral coup”.

Opposition leader Henri Konan Bedie, whose rivalry with Ouattara has marked Ivorian politics for three decades, called for a boycott and a campaign of civil disobedience to halt or disrupt the election.

Polling stations sending tallies

“October 31 was not the deluge as the leaders of the opposition forecast,” Adama Bictogo, a senior ruling party official, said after the election. 

“The popular will was expressed and all the opposition did for months was defend the idea of not holding elections.”

Electoral officials have up to five days to release the results. Polling stations on Sunday were sending tallies to the electoral commission.

Electoral officials said only 30 to 40 polling stations out of more than 22,000 nationwide were vandalised. But they did not say how many polling stations were forced to close.

Ballot papers did not arrive in Bedie’s fiefdom in the central town of Daoukro, for example, where young opposition activists had blocked roads. Local residents said polling stations did not open there.  

Opposition leaders on Saturday dismissed the election as a failure and several opposition figures, including exiled former rebel chief Guillaume Soro, announced they no longer recognised Ouattara as president.

“The electoral coup has been a failure. The Ivorian people succeeded in halting this election,” opposition candidate Pascal Affi N’Guessan told a news conference at Bedie’s residence.

Test for region

The tense Ivorian election is another test for a region where Nigeria was buffeted by widespread protests, Mali soldiers ousted the president and Islamist militants are gaining a foothold.

Ouattara, 78, had said after his second term he planned to make way for a new generation, but the sudden death of his chosen successor prompted him to seek a third term.

The Ivorian leader says a constitutional court ruling approved his third term, allowing him to reset the country’s two-term presidential limit.

Bedie, 86, and other opposition leaders had accused the electoral commission and the constitutional court of favouring the government, making a fair vote impossible.

The weeks before the election saw clashes, mainly between local ethnic groups close to the opposition and Dioula communities seen as loyal to the president, himself a Muslim from the north.

When Ivory Coast emerged from a civil war after 2002, the country was split in two, the north held by rebels and the south by forces of then president Gbagbo.

After negotiations, Ouattara won a long-postponed election in 2010 although Gbagbo refused to accept defeat. Following battles in Abidjan, French forces intervened to help Ouattara loyalists oust the former president.

Source: FRANCE 24 with AFP 

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