News / Africa

Curfew to Follow Sunday Vote in Ivory Coast

People watch on a big screen as Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo talks during a live debate on national television with Ivory Coast opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan, 25 Nov 2010
People watch on a big screen as Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo talks during a live debate on national television with Ivory Coast opposition leader Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan, 25 Nov 2010

Ivory Coast's president says there will be an overnight curfew following Sunday's vote to prevent post-electoral violence. Hostility between the rival candidates led to one death ahead of the country's first-ever presidential debate.

President Laurent Gbagbo and former prime minister Alassane Ouattara are in their final day of campaigning Friday. There will be a day of reflection on Saturday ahead of Sunday's second-round runoff.

President Gbagbo says there will be an overnight curfew following that vote. In a nationally-televised debate late Thursday, Mr. Gbagbo announced that after 10 pm Sunday, police and gendarmes will clear the streets so there is no violence and no interference with the transmission of ballots to the electoral commission.

In that debate, Mr. Gbagbo blamed Mr. Ouattara for the country's continuing instability.

In August of 2002, President Gbagbo says, Mr. Ouattara threatened to make the country ungovernable. Mr. Gbagbo says he does not like that statement, not as the president, but because it has not brought and security to Ivory Coast. He says Mr. Ouattara is responsible for all the instability in the country between 1999 and today.

Mr. Ouatarra says it is easy to accuse someone without proof or investigation. At the time of the 2002 coup attempt, he says President Gbagbo called it an opportunity for democracy. When President Gbagbo returned from Libreville, he was escorted by soldiers through the city of Bouake. Yet despite all that, Ouattara says he never accused the president of being responsible for that instability.

As a former economist, Mr. Ouattara said voters can trust him to draw more foreign investment to Ivory Coast. President Gbagbo said people are not necessarily looking for a good economist. Great leaders, he said, must know how to lead a state.

This election is meant to reunite the country after a brief civil war divided north from south. But campaigning has revived many of the underlying divisions between the regions.

Mr. Ouattara trailed President Gbagbo in the first round, so to win on Sunday, he needs votes from other regions to add to his traditional base of support in the north. He is counting on the endorsement of the third-place finisher, former president Henri Konan Bedie, to win over the ethnic Baoule vote in central regions.

President Gbabgo is campaigning for those Baoule voters by continuing to blame Mr. Ouattara for past violence and playing on some voters' misgivings about the former prime minister's nationality. Many people from the north are descendants of immigrants from Burkina Faso and Mali.

Both candidates ended the debate by appealing to their supporters to remain calm as hostility has grown in this last week of campaigning. Security officials say a Gbagbo supporter was stabbed to death by a Ouattara supporter in the western commune of Bayota.

A special security force in place for this vote is sending more troops to northern areas still controlled by former rebels. Additional U.N. peacekeepers are on the ground on loan from the mission in neighboring Liberia.

European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton says an increasingly radicalized campaign could pose security risks. While the first round was relatively peaceful, the International Crisis Group is warning that both candidates could now be tempted to contest the results in the street if they lose.

The U.N. is urging both candidates to refrain from declaring victory until the final election results are formally announced. First returns are expected late Sunday.

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