Ethnic clashes in Ivory Coast opposition stronghold ahead of poll

House of presidential candidate N’Guessan in Bongounou burned down, two people reported killed and several injured.

President Ouattara officially launched his campaign on Friday [Sia Kambou/AFP]

The home of an opposition presidential candidate has been burned down during clashes in Ivory Coast on Saturday, two weeks before the country’s high-stakes presidential election.

Violence began on Friday in Bongouanou, the stronghold of opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan, as residents from different ethnic groups fighting with machetes while houses and shops were set on fire.

Residents told AFP news agency that people from the local Agni ethnic group were fighting Dioula people from northern Ivory Coast, who back current President Alassane Ouattara.

At least two people were killed, according to a report citing witnesses.

A trader from the Agni ethnic group considered pro-opposition was shot and hacked to death, a family member told AFP. At least one person from a group considered pro-government was also killed in the area, according to several witnesses and a hospital source.

An AFP journalist reported that in Bongouanou itself many shops and restaurants were looted and set on fire, and several cars were torched.

“The situation is untenable. We have a lot of wounded people being taken to hospital,” said Mathieu, a resident of Bongouanou.

N’Guessan, meanwhile, said his house had been burned down. “The people were transported from Abidjan. They targeted the property of opposition leaders,” he told AFP.

About 15 people were killed in inter-communal violence in August and September across the country after Ouattara announced his intention to run for a third term.

Candidates barred

Meanwhile, dozens of prospective candidates were barred from the election, including former president Laurent Gbagbo and ex-rebel chief Guillaume Soro.

In a step towards a potential boycott, the opposition asked supporters on Thursday not to take part in electoral events and campaigning.

Several high-profile figures, including N’Guessan, have also called for “civil disobedience” in recent weeks.

Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko condemned Saturday’s unrest and warned the opposition they were provoking violence.

“We will be quite implacable,” Bakayoko  said. “If you are responsible for violence on people, on public or private property, then sooner or later you will have to pay, there will be a trial.”

Ouattara and his supporters have argued that a 2016 revision of the constitution reset the limit on the number of terms [Luc Gnago/Reuters]

Ouattara officially launched his campaign on Friday, addressing thousands in a rally in the country’s second-biggest city, Bouake.

In addition to Ouattara and N’Guessan, former President Henri Konan Bedie and former parliamentarian Kouadio Konan Bertin are in the running for the October 31 poll.

In March, Ouattara announced he would not seek a third term. But he changed his mind after his preferred successor, prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died of a heart attack in July.

Ouattara and his supporters have argued that a 2016 revision of the constitution reset the limit on the number of terms.

Source: News Agencies