, ABIDJAN, Nov 26 – Violence broke out Thursday in the tense run-up to Ivory Coast\’s presidential election when a man was killed in clashes between supporters of rival candidates, according to officials.
It was the first death reported in violence linked to Sunday\’s tense second-round vote, a high-stakes poll which aims to end a decade of instability in the west African country.
The young man, a supporter of President Laurent Gbagbo, was stabbed by a backer of rival candidate Alassane Ouattara in Bayota, a western pro-Gbagbo stronghold, a local authority official told AFP by telephone.
Gbagbo said on Thursday evening in a televised election debate with his rival — the first of its kind in Ivory Coast — that he would enforce a curfew on Sunday after voting finishes to prevent unrest.
Despite rising tensions, violent street scuffles and fierce personal attacks in earlier campaigning, the two contenders debated calmly for two hours about peace, jobs, poverty and the economy.
They reiterated their mutual accusations of blame for the violence and polical turmoil of recent years.
Ggagbo says he has a track record of leadership to steer the country to peace, while Ouattara touts his economic credentials as a former executive of the International Monetary Fund.
"I am a former economist. I ask you to trust me," Ouattara said in the debate, promising to draw investors to Ivory Coast, the world\’s biggest single cocoa producer and source of other commodities.
Gbagbo retorted that in a president "people aren\’t necessarily looking for a good economist. The great leaders weren\’t necessarily all good economists… You have to know how to lead a state."
Ivorian and international observers have called for calm in recent days amid a series of clashes in the run-up to the vote.
On Thursday an official in Bayota, who asked not to be named, said violence broke out after a Gbagbo supporter tore down a poster of Ouattara. A security official confirmed the death to AFP, as did an independent source who said the killer and three others had been arrested.
Gbagbo, who has held on to power since his term expired in 2005 and is fighting for re-election, won 38 percent of the first-round vote and his old rival, former prime minister Ouattara, took 32 percent.
Each is now seeking to grab votes from supporters of the defeated first-round candidate, former president Henri Konan Bedie, but three days from the crucial vote there were few indicators of who had the edge.
Ivorian and international forces meanwhile bolstered their deployments in case of violence.
The United Nations agreed to transfer 500 extra troops and an air unit to join its 8,500 peacekeepers in the country. Ivory Coast\’s CCI joint force of government and rebel troops said it had bolstered deployments to secure the vote.
Religious leaders, the United Nations mission and the European Union have urged calm ahead of Sunday\’s decisive vote, aimed at turning the page after a civil war split the country in two in 2002.
Elections have been postponed six times in the past five years.
On Sunday "the elections must take place, but from 10:00 pm (2200 GMT), when the ballots are being returned, there must be a curfew so the streets will be free and police and gendarmes will patrol," Gbagbo said Thursday.
Ouattara responded: "We could have discussed this, because a curfew dramatises things."
The disturbances were "localised" he said, but he added: "I want to say to all my countrymen that these elections must be peaceful."