Opposition Backers Demonstrate to Challenge New Ivory Coast Leader
Demonstrators backing Ivory Coast opposition leader Alassane Ouattara poured on to Abidjan streets Thursday after their candidate was sidelined in a presidential election and its tumultuous aftermath.
Protesters were out in the northern Abobo working-class district before the end of an overnight curfew at 6:00 a.m. (0600 GMT), where witnesses said they clashed with supporters of socialist politician Laurent Gbagbo.
Gbagbo was brought to power Wednesday by hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets and after clashes between civilians aided by some troops and police units who battled forces backing military ruler General Robert Guei.
Ouattara, leader of the Rally of Republicans (RDR), had been barred by the Supreme Court from standing in Sunday's election, which both Guei and Gbagbo claimed to have won.
AFP journalists estimated that at least 11 civilians were killed in two days of violence, though some sources claimed scores of people died.
An army officer said the soldiers who took part in an offensive on the presidential palace suffered no losses and entered it once troops backing Guei had withdrawn. The general had lost the support of several key aides.
More and more pro-Ouattara demonstrators turned out Thursday, erecting road blocks, setting tyres on fire and blocking off parts of the economic capital after the curfew finished. Business was paralyzed in some areas.
Ouattara's RDR has dismissed the election as "illegitimate" and echoed the call for new all-inclusive polls, along with members of the once-ruling Ivory Coast Democratic Party (PDCI), whose candidates were also barred.
"As we have said from the start, we do not recognize the result of this election, it is illegitimate and worthless," RDR spokesman Ali Coulibaly told AFP on Wednesday.
Gbagbo, leader of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), has won the allegiance of top army and police officers, but said he will not take up the post of head of state until the official results of the election have been issued.
FPI number three Boga Doudou on Thursday told AFP: "Order will be restored. These demonstrations are baseless. We will apply the law with full force."
Late Wednesday, the national electoral commission (CNE) resumed the vote count which was brought to an abrupt halt on Monday by troops when it became clear on the initial, limited results that Gbagbo was well ahead of Guei, who first came to power on the back of an army mutiny last December.
Gbagbo, who hails from the west of the country, has publicly said that he considers that Ouattara, a Muslim northerner and former prime minister, was not eligible to take part in the election.
The Supreme Court on October 6 excluded Ouattara, whose RDR was considered by some analysts to be the second party in the country, on the grounds that he had made use of Burkinabe nationality to further his career.
The court also barred all candidates of the Ivory Coast Democratic Party (PDCI), which still has the strongest political machinery in the country. Guei announced he was running for office in August and fomented nationalist sentiment.
Ouattara's RDR has said Gbagbo should call a new election, but the FPI leader has benefited from a divide between the mainly Christian south and the Muslim north, with a new constitution which stopped people of non-Ivorian parentage from running for office.
Gbagbo's aide Doudou said that Ouattara supporters had been asked to vote last July on the new constitution, "which eliminated them. We don't know what they want."
More than a third of the population of the once prosperous country is made of immigrants who came to work on cocoa and coffee plantations.
Guei's former spokesman, naval Captain Henri Sama, who was among ministers to quit the junta and declare they told the general to stand down after the election, said several of Guei's civilian aides have been arrested, including former interior minister Balla Keita and student leader Martial Apiheaud.
Officials in France, the former colonial power, said Guei had left the palace, apparently for an airbase, and police in Benin said his wife Rose Doudou and children had arrived by helicopter in Cotonou – ABIDJAN (AFP)
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