Clashes over Ivory Coast vote as neighbouring states urge talks

Fighting erupted over President Alassane Ouattara’s re-election as West African nations and France called for talks to end tensions over his contested third term.

A policeman walks past a burning barricade during a protest after security forces blocked access to the house of the former president Henri Konan Bedie [File: Leo Correa/AP]

More clashes broke out over Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara’s re-election as West African nations and France called for dialogue to end tensions over his contested third term.

Ouattara secured the October 31 election by more than 94 percent but Ivory Coast is mired in a dispute after opposition leaders rejected the vote, accusing him of breaching the two-term limit for the presidency.

Tensions have revived trauma over disputed elections in 2010 that unleashed a brief civil war in the West African country, claiming about 3,000 lives.

At least three people were killed in the central-eastern town of M’Batto between Monday and Tuesday when violence erupted between rival ethnic communities over Ouattara’s third term, police and residents said.

“The situation is calm now and reinforcements are patrolling the area,” a police spokesman said, confirming the total of three killed and 26 wounded.

Another nine people died in violence in two other towns on Monday as the country’s top court validated Ouattara’s election victory.

More than 8,000 Ivorians have fled to neighbouring countries fearing election-linked violence, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday, adding more than 60 percent of whom are children.

West African bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) offered “warm congratulations” to Ouattara but the 15-member group urged him to bring Ivorians together after the unrest that has killed about 50 people since August.

Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund economist first elected in 2010, has urged chief rival Henri Konan Bedie to drop the protests and hold talks to defuse the crisis.

“I will be the president for all Ivorians,” he said in a national broadcast on Monday.

There has been no official response from the main opposition party Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI) or its chief Bedie, an 86-year-old former president.

Bedie’s Abidjan home is still blockaded by security forces. Two other opposition chiefs have been arrested for suspected insurrection after rejecting the ballot and announcing a rival government.

But one opposition representative maintained a hard line.

“We do not recognise the election. We all know he [Ouattara] violated the constitution,” said N’Goran Djiedri, leader of one faction of the PDCI.

“Yes to dialogue but the rule of law must be respected.”

‘Real discussion’

ECOWAS urged “all Ivorians to put peace and social cohesion above all and seek to resolve their differences through dialogue and legal channels”.

The UN, EU and African Union have all urged talks to stop tensions worsening in Ivory Coast which is the world’s top cocoa producer, francophone West Africa’s largest economy and a business hub.

Western diplomats and government sources say talks are ongoing with both sides, although no solid progress has been made so far.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Ivory Coast’s former colonial ruler considered Ouattara’s offer of dialogue went “in the right direction” but hoped “acts will contribute to appeasement”.

“Bedie and Ouattara could see each other and be seen with each other to take the tensions down a level,” one Western diplomat said. “The real discussion needs to happen between these two.”

The bitter rivalry has marked Ivorian politics for decades along with ethnic and regional loyalties.

In power since 2010, Ouattara had said at the end of his second term he would make way for the next generation, raising hopes for an end to the long-running feuds.

But the sudden death of his chosen successor in July prompted a change of mind.

His bid angered opposition chiefs, stoking tensions over a possible post-election crisis similar to one in 2010-11 when then-president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by Ouattara.

French troops eventually intervened and Ouattara loyalists were able to dislodge Gbagbo.

The country was already divided in two after a civil war – the north held by rebels and the south by Gbagbo’s forces.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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