Clashes over Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara’s re-election killed at least six people Monday as the country’s top court validated his contested third-term victory.
Ouattara, 78, won more than 94 percent of the vote, but Ivory Coast is caught in a standoff after opposition leaders boycotted the ballot and vowed to set up a rival government in protest over a mandate they see as illegal.
Around 50 people have been killed in violence since August and two opposition chiefs have been arrested, fuelling fears that Ivory Coast could slide into the kind of widespread unrest it suffered after a disputed 2010 vote.
New clashes between rival ethnic communities broke out on Monday in central eastern Daoukro, the fiefdom of opposition chief Henri Konan Bedie, officials said. Deadly violence also erupted there in the lead up to the October 31 election.
“Inter-community clashes in Daoukro left three dead and 41 wounded on Monday,” local government administrator Solange Aka told AFP. She said one person had been decapitated and another burned as protesters barricaded roads. Regional council president Adam Kolia Traore confirmed the toll.
Three more people were killed in central Elibou during clashes between security forces and protesters blocking a highway, local residents said. Officials did not immediately confirm those deaths however.
Much of the violence has descended into fighting between local ethnic groups allied with the opposition and Dioula communities seen as close to Ouattara, himself a Muslim from the north.
The opposition had called for supporters to mobilise before Monday’s constitutional council ruling to ratify election results and validate Ouattara’s third mandate. Constitutional Council President Mamadou Kone said Monday that the top court ratified the results and noted “no serious irregularities” in the conduct of the election.
“Alassane Ouattara is proclaimed elected in the first round,” Kone said in a statement broadcast on television. Ivory Coast’s opposition leaders are now under investigation for insurrection and terrorism after they rejected the result and called for their rival “transitional” government.
After several tense days, Abidjan, the former French colony’s economic capital, has mostly returned to its usual bustle, though police still surrounded the home of opposition chief Bedie in the city.
Two others, former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Maurice Kakou Guikahue, deputy of Bedie’s main opposition party PDCI, have been arrested.
– Call for talks –
United Nations human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet called Monday for dialogue and expressed concern over arrests and blockades.
“It is in nobody’s interests to fuel the threat of increasing political instability,” she said in a statement.
“I urge political leaders from all sides to work together to calm the tensions through dialogue not heavy-handed security responses and arrests.”
Diplomats and government sources say talks are taking place between the two sides to ease tensions but that no major progress has been made so far. The bitter rivalry between Ouattara and Bedie, 86, has marked Ivorian politics for decades along with the country’s ethnic and regional loyalties.
In power since 2010, Ouattara had said that at the end of his second term he would make way for the next generation, raising hopes for an end to the long-running feud between the country’s ageing leaders.
Supporters praised him for bringing economic growth and stability to the world’s top cocoa producer after years of unrest.
But the sudden death of his chosen successor in July prompted him to change his mind. He says a 2016 reform allowed him to reset the presidential term limits and run for a third time, a decision critics say is unconstitutional.
His bid angered opposition chiefs, stoking tensions over a possible post-election crisis similar to one in 2010-11 when then-president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by Ouattara.
The country was already divided in two after a 2002 civil war the north held by rebels and the south by Gbagbo’s forces. Ouattara won a long-delayed 2010 election, but Gbagbo refused to step down despite international recognition of Ouattara.
French troops eventually intervened as Abidjan became a battleground and Ouattara loyalists were able to oust Gbagbo from his bunker.