Ivory Coast’s main opposition parties boycotting the presidential vote asserted on Saturday that at least a dozen people had died in election day clashes as incumbent leader Alassane Ouattara sought a controversial third term.
The election has revived painful memories of the West African nation’s crisis nearly a decade earlier that left more than 3,000 people dead before the country’s then-president was forced to concede defeat.
Many fear those old political rivalries could be reignited.
More than 20 people were killed ahead of Saturday’s vote, prompting the United Nations and human rights groups to call for calm.
Top opposition candidates Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Henri Konan Bedie had urged their supporters to stay home after first trying unsuccessfully to have Mr Ouattara’s candidacy thrown out, citing constitutional term limits.
People wait in line to vote in presidential election in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Diomande Ble Blonde/AP)
The president maintains the two-term limit does not apply to him because a new constitution was approved in a 2016 referendum.
The opposition parties gave few details about the alleged deaths on Saturday. They said the boycott and call for civil disobedience had succeeded in thwarting the vote.
“Ivorians refused to associate themselves with this farce of an action,” Mr N’Guessan said, describing Abidjan as “a deserted city”.
Opposition activists put up barricades in many localities, and voting materials were seized from depots and burned, he said, without offering specifics.
Ibrahime Coulibaly-Kuibiert, president of the Independent Electoral Commission, told reporters there had been a few “minor disturbances”.
“There are barely 30 to 40 polling stations that were ransacked,” out of more than 22,000 nationwide, he said.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara speaks to journalists after voting (Leo Correa/AP)
Mr Ouattara called on Ivorians to halt acts of violence aimed at disrupting the vote as he cast his ballot earlier in the day in Abidjan’s Cocody neighbourhood.
“I appeal to those who launched this slogan of civil disobedience that led to the death of a man,” he said, giving no details. “Let them stop, let them stop because Ivory Coast needs peace.”
While election observers outnumbered voters at some polling stations, crowds gathered early in the Abobo neighbourhood, a Ouattara stronghold.
“All Ivorians who want peace should vote today,” said Mamery Doumbia, standing outside a voting centre.
“My greatest wish is that the country finds peace again following the election because I am afraid for what will happen after the vote.”