Opposition protesters see incumbent President Alassane Ouattara’ s third term bid as unconstitutional.
Protesters blocked roads in the opposition stronghold of Daoukro weeks before the election saw sporadic clashes in the south of the country.
Weeks before the election saw sporadic clashes in the south of the country,
Ivory Coast President Ouattara appealed to opponents to end unrest during the presidential election on Saturday as scattered protests broke out in Abidjan and other towns over his contested bid for a third term.
At least 30 people have been killed in pre-election clashes since August, stoking fears of a return to the violence that left 3,000 dead in a crisis a decade ago when then president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by Ouattara.
The Ivorian leader’s decision to run again angered opponents who called for a boycott and civil disobedience over a third mandate they branded an unconstitutional “electoral coup”.
A former IMF economist in power since 2010, Ouattara is in the race against veteran opposition leader Henri Konan Bedie in a bitter rivalry that has marked the West African country’s politics for decades.
“I appeal to those who launched this slogan for civil disobedience which has led to deaths: Stop. Ivory Coast needs peace,” Ouattara said after he voted in Abidjan.
Police fired tear gas in Abidjan’s Blockhauss district to clear hundreds of youths who tried to disrupt voting.
Groups of youth set up makeshift barricades in and around central eastern town of Daoukro, stronghold of opposition leader Bedie.
“We don’t want Ouattara’s third term. Elections should be postponed for negotiations so we can vote peacefully,” said protester Eugene Kouakou Kouadio at a barricade of tables and branches, with a slingshot in his hand.
Polling stations were still not open in the town towards the end of voting, an AFP reporter said.
Voting material was damaged and one person injured in the western town of Gboguhe when clashes erupted between pro-Ouattara ethnic Dioula youth and local Guere communities, said paramedic Arsene Boazo.
In Bouadikro and Bongouanou, a stronghold of another opposition leader, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, north of Abidjan, polling stations had also not opened.
Roadblocks were erected between the towns, and young protesters were warning “No vote here”, witnesses said.
More than 35,000 police and security force officials were mobilised to secure the election.
Electoral Commission President Ibrahime Kuibiert-Coulibaly acknowledged some local problems, but said only 30 or 40 polling stations had been ransacked out of 22,000 nationwide. He did not say how many stations could not open.
“The process has been tense,” said Patrick Allou, 32, waiting to vote in Abidjan’s Plateau district. “Everyone has their opinion but you should express it democratically. No one needs to die in an election.”
Polls were due to close at 1800 GMT, though it is not clear when the results will be released. Electoral authorities by law have up to five days to announce the results.
The ballot in French-speaking West Africa’s economic powerhouse is a crunch test in a region where Nigeria is emerging from widespread social protests, Mali faced a coup and jihadist violence wracks the Sahel.
Ouattara, 78, was supposed to step aside after his second term to make way for a younger generation, but the sudden death of his chosen successor led to a change of plan.
The Ivorian leader says a constitutional court ruling approved his third term, allowing him to bypass two-term presidential limits after a 2016 legal reform.
His supporters expect a strong win, touting his record in bringing infrastructure projects, economic growth and stability to the world’s top cocoa producer after a decade of instability.
But Bedie, 86, and other opposition leaders accuse the electoral commission and the constitutional court of favouring the government, making a fair and transparent vote impossible.
While the UN has called for calm, the opposition had urged supporters to carry out an “active” boycott and a campaign to block the vote, stoking fears of violence in opposition strongholds.
“The question is what will the opposition do after November 1?” said Sylvain N’Guessan, director and political analyst at the Abidjan Strategies institute.
The weeks before the election saw sporadic clashes in the south of the country, mainly between local ethnic groups close to the opposition and Dioula communities seen as loyal to the president, himself a Muslim from the north.
The country’s political feuds are often closely tied up with its leaders’ ethnic identities and regional loyalties.
A decade ago, Ivory Coast was emerging from a civil war and the country was split in two, the north held by rebels and the south by forces of then president Gbagbo.