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Côte d'Ivoire to elect new Parliament

Staff Reporter

Côte d'Ivoire has voted for a new Parliament, a poll boycotted by former leader Laurent Gbagbo's party as he awaits trial in The Hague.

Ivorians voted on Sunday to elect a new Parliament in a poll boycotted by the party of former strongman Laurent Gbagbo, who is awaiting trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity.

With Gbagbo sitting in an International Criminal Court (ICC) cell, the coalition backing President Alassane Ouattara is widely expected to gain a majority of the 255 seats in the new assembly.

The vote comes only a year after the poll that brought the west African country to the brink of civil war in a conflict that claimed about 3 000 lives. And it follows a week of campaigning that left five people dead.

About 25 000 members of the Ivorian security forces, backed by 7 000 members of the UN peacekeeping mission, will be deployed to ensure security during the election in this country of 21 million people.

“Acts of violence, intimidation or obstruction cannot be tolerated,” said Bert Koenders, the head of the UN mission.

Put an end to the violence
Prime Minister Guillaume Soro on Thursday issued an “urgent appeal to all political parties and candidates to put an end to the violence surrounding the [parliamentary] election”.

He had noticed the presence of military personnel in the campaign teams of some candidates, he said, adding that they would be “identified and punished”.

After a political and military crisis lasting more than a decade, weapons including home-made guns, Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-launchers are circulating freely in the country.

About 5.7 million voters will cast their ballots, with polling stations to close at 5pm, watched over by 150 international and 3 000 Ivorian observers.

Election results are expected mid-week.

‘Political kidnapping’
Violence erupted in the country after the November 2010 presidential run-off when Gbagbo, who held on to his job five years after his initial mandate expired in 2005, refused to concede defeat to Ouattara.

He was eventually captured in his presidential palace by pro-Ouattara forces in April 2011, with support from French and UN troops.

Ouattara (69) came to power in April. He now faces the daunting task of reconciling the divided country and integrating the rebels who fought for him into the pro-Gbagbo armed forces.

He must also give fresh economic impetus to the world’s top cocoa producer: the economy shrank six percent during the crisis this year.

Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front has called its champion’s transfer to the ICC a “political kidnapping”, denouncing what they call “victor’s justice” and vowing to pull out of the reconciliation process.

The ICC has carried out an investigation parallel to Ivorian justice, looking into crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by both Gbagbo loyalists as well as Ouattara supporters.—AFP

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