Deaths, low turnout reported in Cote d'Ivoire presidential run-off

17:44, November 29, 2010      

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Fewer than expected voters were seen on Sunday during Cote d'Ivoire's presidential run-off after a week-long campaign that was marked by violence and the imposition of a curfew on Saturday till Wednesday.

The long queues witnessed during the first round held on Oct. 31 were not visible at many polling stations which were almost empty by midday.

The Xinhua correspondent also noticed that most polling stations opened behind schedule as voting materials and election officials failed to arrive in time because of the curfew.

About 5.7 million voters were registered to cast ballots, but the turnout for the run-off was apparently low compared with the first round, when the rate hit 83 percent.

The facilitator in Cote d'Ivoire's crisis, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, arrived in Abidjan on Saturday to meet with political players in the country.

"I am happy to have voted and equally happy that after our meeting yesterday, the president has agreed to lift the curfew starting this morning. This will give an assurance to the people of Cote d'Ivoire that everything, including vote counting and tallying will be done in the best conditions," president candidate Alassane Ouattara declared after having voted at the Cocody district in Abidjan.

The declaration by Ouattara was denied by his rival, the outgoing President Laurent Gbagbo, who insisted that the curfew was still being enforced although it would be "controlled" as demanded by the Independent Electoral Commission (CEI).

"The curfew was imposed to maintain social order during the second round of the presidential election," Gbagbo explained.

The measure was taken after a campaign period that was marked by bitter verbal exchanges between the two candidates and violence which has left at least seven people dead and dozens of others injured.

On Saturday, on the eve of the vote, three people were killed and dozens more injured during a confrontation between police and pro-Ouattara supporters, who were demonstrating against the curfew.

On Sunday, police and gendarmes were visible on the streets of the country's economic capital Abidjan and some of them wore plain clothes within the poling stations.

However, an official source confirmed to Xinhua on Sunday night that an outbreak of violence had left two people dead, including a military officer and a civilian. The death toll for the election- day violence was put at six by some other sources.

In most of the polling stations, the process was reportedly peaceful, but amid suspicion of fraud with each camp accusing the other of rigging.

Pascal Affi N'Guessan, the spokesman of Gbagbo, pointed out that there were serious irregularities in the northern zones controlled by ex-rebel New Forces (FN). He said the agents of the incumbent president were "physically attacked."

"We can say that generally, the election was not free and fair and that people were not allowed to freely choose their preferred candidate," the spokesman said.

Ouattara's camp, on its part, complained about the delay at the start of voting exercise in the forest areas of central-west and southwest inhabited by Baoule people, who mostly support former president Henri Konan Bedie.

Bedie won 25 percent of the vote in the first round and has asked his supporters to vote for Ouattara in the run-off.

Marcel Amon Tanoh, an official of Ouattara's Rally of Republicans (RDR), said the party's agents were not allowed to be "physically present " at some polling stations within the strongholds of their rival Gbagbo.

CEI has three days to publish the provisional results which are supposed to be validated by the Constitutional Court.

In the first round, Ouattara managed to get 32 percent of the vote against Gbagbo's 38 percent.

With the deployment of a 9,800-strong UN peacekeeping mission and international observers, the world is expecting the once prosperous West African country and the top cocoa producer to end the long-standing political crisis with the presidential vote.

The election has been repeatedly postponed since 2005, when Gbagbo's five-year term expired. Differences between the government and the FN over disarmament and voter list preparations were among the key issues to block the electoral process.

Cote d'Ivoire suffered a military coup in 1999. Gbagbo won the presidential election the next year. In September 2002, the FN launched an attempted coup against Gbagbo. The incident triggered a civil war, which divided the country with Gbagbo's government controlling the Christian south and the FN holding the Muslim dominated north.

In March 2007, the two sides signed a peace accord in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, to form a coalition government. Both agreed to hold a presidential election to end the division.

Source: Xinhua


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