Ivory Coast heads for run off vote

November 4, 2010 12:00 am

, ABIDJAN, Nov 4 – Ivory Coast incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo will face rival Alassane Ouattara in a run-off presidential vote after results showed Thursday they topped a weekend poll, despite claims of fraud.

The 65-year-old Gbagbo, in power for a decade, won just over 38 percent votes cast Sunday and ex-prime minister Ouattara took 32 percent, according to final results announced by the Independent Election Commission.

The camp of third-placed former president Henri Konan Bedie meanwhile alleged ballot tampering in the long-delayed presidential election and demanded a recount. He won 25.24 percent of around 4.5 million votes cast.

The results must be validated by the constitutional council before they can be proclaimed as official. The run-off is likely to be scheduled for November 28.

Gbagbo and Ouattara, 68, have a deeply troubled personal relationship that analysts said increases the risk of unrest in the world\’s top cocoa-producing nation, which is emerging from a decade of political and military unrest.

The top three candidates together took nearly 96 percent of the votes cast, with the 11 other candidates sharing only the small remainder, the results showed.

But Bedie\’s campaign manager, Djedje Mady, said his camp doubted the "credibility" of the results announced.

There was "an obvious willingness towards ballot tampering", he alleged, demanding a "recount of ballot papers."

Polling was generally smooth Sunday, with a turnout of around 80 percent. But the European Union observer mission has accused the electoral commission of denying its monitors access to its premises.

The UN Security Council however praised the vote, and said minor irregularities did not affect the outcome.

The Council "commended the Ivorian people for their massive and peaceful participation which represents a historic step toward the restoration of sustainable peace," it said in a statement read by Britain\’s UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the body\’s current president.

It urged candidates to ensure a peaceful environment and accept the results, and called on supporters to refrain from violence.

But a run-off duel between Gbagbo and Ouattara raises concern, since differences between the two frontrunners go well beyond the political sphere, according to West African intelligence newsletter La Lettre du Continent.

"Despite circumstantial rapprochements… the two men possess a visceral hatred," the newsletter said.

As prime minister under former president Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Ouattara jailed Gbagbo.

"For his part, the president has always seen Ouattara as the invisible hand who financed and sparked the 2002 rebellion," the newsletter said in a post-election analysis.

Gbagbo came to power in a 2000 election from which Bedie and Ouattara were excluded, and survived a coup attempt two years later that escalated into a full-scale civil war.

The conflict also divided the country between Gbagbo\’s government-controlled south and the north held by former New Forces rebels, with UN and French peacekeepers patrolling the buffer zone between them.

Despite occasional outbreaks of deadly violence, a March 2007 peace accord has held and a disarmament programme has meant that government control has gradually returned to areas in the north.

Gbagbo postponed polls six times over concerns about who has Ivorian nationality and a right to vote, and the progress of disarmament by the former rebels.

He polled strongly in the country\’s biggest city Abidjan, early results showed. Ouattara won the bulk of the votes in the Muslim north while Bedie\’s support came from the centre, particularly the capital Yamoussoukro.



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