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Ivory Coast Elections Could be Delayed Again

Ivory Coast Elections Could be Delayed Again
Ivory Coast Elections Could be Delayed Again

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Controversy over the voter list in Ivory Coast is threatening to once again push back long-delayed presidential elections.  Election-related protests erupted around Ivory Coast this past week.

Ivorian investigators have confirmed evidence of "fraud" in the voter list for the country's upcoming presidential elections.

President Laurent Gbagbo accused the Independent Electoral Commission in January of approving a voter list that contained the names of almost a half million foreigners.  The accusations were followed by calls for electoral commission head, Robert Mambé, to resign.

Announcing the investigators' findings Friday, spokesman Mohamed Diakité said the consequences of this alleged fraud were "extremely serious."

He says despite opposition from electoral commission members, its central committee and President Gbagbo, electoral commission head Robert Mambé gave the unauthorized names to the technicians who then added them to most of the lists.  He says this finding brings the legitimacy of the electoral list into question.

Mambé, an opposition member, said he does not plan to resign and the voter list in question should never have been released.

He says he will continue to fight to finish what he knew from the beginning would be a difficult mission.  He says he did not commit fraud nor did he instruct others to commit fraud.

The vote is an attempt to find a lasting political solution to nearly a decade of internal conflict in the once stable West African nation, but voter registration issues have prompted Ivory Coast to push back the election several times since President Laurent Gbagbo's mandate ran out in 2005.

Questions of nationality were at the heart of the civil war in 2002 and remain sensitive in Ivory Coast, which has a large immigrant population.  Observers say recent political stalemate demonstrates just how far the country is from resolving the questions of "Who is Ivorian?" and "Who can vote?"

Last week, mounting frustration erupted into violent protests outside courthouses around the country, first in Katiola and Divo, where one police officer was killed, and finally in Man, near the Liberian border, on Friday.  Thousands of people there stormed the courthouse, accusing the magistrate of trying to strike them from the voter list.

The former rebel faction in the North, the New Forces, had released a statement earlier denouncing what they called attempts to remove northerners from the provisional voter rolls, by questioning their nationality without proof.  They cautioned against the "unpredictable consequences these attempts to strip people of their nationality could provoke."

Justice Minister Mamadou Koné has not only condemned the outbreaks of violence, but also called for local magistrates to follow proper legal protocol when seeking to remove people from the voter rolls.  State security forces prevented him from reading his statement on national television.

Opposition members have accused Mr. Gbagbo's party of pressuring courts to remove people from the voter list and of stalling elections to remain in power.  The opposition continues to call for the poll to happen in March, as planned.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast has called for calm and continues to urge the country to organize elections as soon as possible.

The deadline for the publication of the definitive voter list has been pushed back to February 14, and observers say recent political disputes make holding an election in March near impossible.

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