Five killed in tense run-up to Ivory Coast vote

December 9, 2011 6:47 am

, ABIDJAN, Dec 8 – Ivory Coast Prime Minister Guillaume Soro on Thursday called for a halt to violence after five people died in the run-up to weekend elections amid fears of a bloodbath like the one after last year’s presidential poll.
Soro, who doubles up as defence minister, issued an “urgent appeal to all political parties and candidates to put an end to the violence surrounding the (parliamentary) election,” due on Sunday.
He said he had noticed military personnel in the campaign teams of certain candidates and warned they “will be identified and punished.”
With former strongman Laurent Gbagbo sitting in an International Criminal Court cell in the Netherlands and his party boycotting the vote, the new president, Alassane Ouattara, is widely expected to cruise to victory.
An estimated 3,000 people died in the months Ggagbo tried to cling to his job after last year’s polls. The west African country was on edge again ahead of the parliamentary vote.
A rocket killed a woman and two teenagers at Grand Lahou in the south of the country, close to where the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI), which is part of the coalition supporting Ouattara, was preparing a rally.
“We hope that was an isolated incident,” PDCI secretary-general Alphonse Djedje Mady said after the rocket attack, but two other deaths were reported by junior defence minister Paul Koffi Koffi.
One of them was a candidate from Ouattara’s Rally of Republicans party, whom Koffi said on television was burned to death, while a young villager was also killed at the weekend.
Koffi expressed concern in a televised address over reports that some candidates were being escorted by armed men.
“When you do that… it’s a militia. Once again the government calls on the candidates to be responsible. You cannot have armed men accompanying you on your campaign trail,” he added.
The top UN envoy to Ivory Coast, Bert Koenders, also deplored “isolated incidents caused by armed men in the candidates’ entourage.”
Gbagbo’s transfer from detention in Ivory Coast to The Hague, where he faces charges of crimes against humanity, has dealt a blow to hopes of a quick reconciliation in the country of 21 million.
After more than a decade of a political and military crisis, many weapons are circulating freely in the country, including homemade guns, Kaslashnikov assault rifles and also rocket-launchers.
Violence erupted last year after Gbagbo, who held on to his job five years after his initial mandate expired in 2005, refused to concede defeat to Ouattara after the November 2010 presidential run-off.
He was eventually captured in his presidential palace by pro-Ouattara forces in April 2011, with support from French and UN troops.
Ouattara, 69, now faces the daunting task of reconciling the divided country, giving fresh economic impetus to the world’s top cocoa producer and revamping the armed forces to integrate the rebels who fought for him.
Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) have called their champion’s ICC transfer a “political kidnapping”, denounced “victor’s justice” and vowed to pull out of the reconciliation process.
Soro is widely expected to remain prime minister after the December 11 election, in which 5.7 million voters are registered to pick the 255-strong national assembly.
Around 25,000 Ivorian troops and 7,000 from the United Nations peacekeeping force will be monitoring the vote.
One of the toughest challenges awaiting Ouattara and former rebel leader Soro will be to form a cohesive security apparatus that includes former Gbagbo loyalists and the ex-rebels who took him to power.
Ouattara, a former International Monetary Fund economist, has focused a lot of his efforts on rekindling growth in French-speaking west Africa’s richest country.

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