ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo warned on Thursday the West African nation faced a catastrophe if candidates in Saturday’s presidential election do not resolve a standoff that has led to violent protests and an opposition call for boycott.
Unidentified assailants torched several vehicles and assaulted residents in the commercial capital Abidjan late on Wednesday, police said, underscoring the tense atmosphere in a race marred by sometimes deadly clashes over President Alassane Ouattara’s bid for a third term.
On the last day of campaigning ahead of the vote, Gbagbo said he felt compelled to give his first interview since being arrested in 2011 for his role in a civil war sparked by his refusal to concede defeat to Ouattara in the previous year’s election.
The International Criminal Court acquitted him last year of war crimes charges related to the conflict, in which 3,000 people were killed.
Sporadic violence has killed around 30 people since August, when Ouattara announced his candidacy, a move the opposition says violates the constitution. His two main challengers – former president Henri Konan Bedie and former prime minister Affi N’Guessan – have called on supporters to prevent the vote from taking place.
The events have stoked fears about a slide into violence and consequent economic fallout in the world’s top cocoa producer.
Gagbo, who has not been granted a passport to return home from Europe and whose candidacy in the current race was barred by the authorities, said he agreed with the opposition’s stance on term limits, but urged all sides to talk.
“The people should sit down and talk,” he said. “The quarrel is taking us towards the abyss.”
Ouattara says the government is deploying 35,000 security force members on election day to make sure voting is peaceful.
In Abidjan’s Yopoupon district, a stronghold of Gbagbo supporters, the blackened shell of a bus lay on a road scorched the previous night. “Given everything that’s going on, we’re worried,” said 43-year-old resident Fernand Labouke.
Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by David Holmes