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Violence feared as Ivory Coast election results are reversed

Ivory Coast’s highest electoral authority Friday overturned presidential election results that gave former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara a victory over President Laurent Gbagbo, a move that could spark violence in the troubled West African country.

The country’s Constitutional Council declared Gbagbo the winner in Sunday’s runoff vote after annulling results in several districts in Ouattara’s northern strongholds.

Council head Paul Yao N’Dre, an ally of the president’s, said Friday that Gbagbo had won 51% of the vote to Ouattara’s 49%. A day earlier, the country’s electoral commission had declared Ouattara the winner with 54% of the vote compared to Gbagbo’s 46%. However, the council has the power to rule on election disputes.

Opposition aides said the country faced the risk of civil war if Gbagbo, who has been president for a decade, tried to cling to power.

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“By doing that they will cement the division of the country,” said opposition aide Jeannot Aboussou before Ouattara’s victory was quashed. “If Yao N’Dre does it he will be to blame for the next war in Ivory Coast.”

Gbagbo cried foul when results gave Ouattara a strong showing in the north, and the opposition camp accused him of refusing to accept defeat and hand over power.

United Nations representatives said this week that the election was sound overall and European Union observers said that there were a few irregularities, but not enough to make any difference to the result.

The move to overturn the election commission results could lead to U.N. Security Council sanctions. America’s ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, said Thursday the council would take appropriate action if either party failed to accept the election results.

President Obama on Friday congratulated Ouattara and urged Gbagbo to respect the result.

Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer, has been waiting for elections since 2005, when Gbagbo’s term expired. He remained in power while election preparations were worked out. A 2002 civil war had divided the country between rebels in the north and Gbagbo’s government in the south.

The overturning of results in Ivory Coast came the same day that neighboring Guinea saw a democratic transition of power: In what is considered the country’s first democratic election, former Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo conceded defeat to long-time opposition leader Alpha Conde. Previous elections in the country, which won independence from France in 1958 appeared to have predetermined outcomes.

Diallo had appealed to that country’s Supreme Court to reject the result, but failed. He said he wasn’t happy, but that he was accepting the result for the sake of the country and called on his supporters to stay calm. Guinea saw violent clashes after its election Nov. 7.

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Both elections underscore the fragile and embryonic nature of democracy in West Africa. They also indicate how interconnected the region is: one concern is that if angry Ouattara supporters riot in Ivory Coast, it could spark violence by Diallo supporters in Guinea.

robyn.dixon@latimes.com


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