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Ivorian Presidential Candidates Face Off in Unprecedented Debate


Residents watch TV in Abidjan, 03 Nov 2010, as election results set the stage for a runoff election

Residents watch TV in Abidjan, 03 Nov 2010, as election results set the stage for a runoff election

People in Ivory Coast are preparing to watch an unprecedented live debate between the candidates in Sunday's presidential runoff election.

President Laurent Gbagbo and challenger Alassane Ouattara are set to face off in a 75-minute debate Thursday evening that will be televised across the nation.

Tensions are high in Ivory Coast ahead of the runoff to elect a president for the first time since a 2002 civil war.

The two candidates' supporters clashed several times in the streets over the past week, while Gbagbo and Ouattara have blamed each other for the country's instability.

On Wednesday, the United Nations said it is sending an additional 500 peacekeepers to Ivory Coast to help maintain order. The troops and two military helicopters are being temporarily reassigned from neighboring Liberia.

Gbagbo won the first round of polling last month with 38 percent of the vote. Ouattara, a former prime minister, was second with 32 percent.

The runoff hinges on which candidate will attract the 25 percent of voters who backed the third-place candidate, former President Henri Konan Bedie, in the first round.

President Gbagbo's term officially ended in 2005. But, elections were postponed several times since then because of failure to disarm rebels and disputes over who is eligible to vote.

The rebels, known as the New Forces, attempted to depose the government of President Gbagbo in September 2002, while he was out of the country. The two sides agreed in January of 2003 to create a unity government, but the country remained effectively divided. A fragile peace accord was signed in 2007.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

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