Ivory Coast issues curfew; opposition protests

Ivory Coast`s opposition leader said he would not respect a curfew imposed.

Abidjan (Ivory Coast): Ivory Coast`s
opposition leader said he would not respect a curfew imposed
today because it would open the door to electoral fraud the
day before historic elections that could restore stability to
the world`s biggest cocoa producer after a decade of unrest.

This West African country`s President Laurent Gbagbo
issued a decree today calling for a nationwide curfew from 10
pm to 6 am Saturday to Wednesday to prevent any tampering with
vote counting. Opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara said the
move was illegal and unconstitutional, adding a curfew should
only come after the election if there is trouble.

Tomorrow`s run-off election is supposed to be the last
step in a drawn-out peace process to put an end to a civil war
that broke out in Ivory Coast in 2002 and left the country
divided between a rebel-held north and a government-held

The war led to eight years of stalemate, during which
time unemployment skyrocketed from 13 percent to nearly 50 per
cent, according a US government estimate. At the same time,
almost half of the population fell into poverty, according to
the World Food Programme.

Ivory Coast, once a model of development and
stability, now ranks 164th out of 177 countries on the United
Nations Human Development Index. The country has been
struggling to hold the election for years.

Gbagbo`s five-year mandate officially expired in 2005,
but he extended his stay in office, arguing elections were
impossible because armed rebels still controlled the northern
half of the country.

The 2007 peace deal broke years of political
stalemate, leading to the dismantlement of a UN-patrolled
buffer zone. But the vote was delayed again repeatedly because
of disputes over voter rolls.

Ivory Coast held the first round of voting at the end
of October.

The vote was certified with only minor irregularities
by international observers, though the largest mission from
the European Union denounced the electoral commission for
preventing its agents from being able to watch vote counting
in certain polling stations.

Gbagbo won the first round with 38 per cent of the
vote, followed by Ouattara with 32 per cent. Former President
Henri Konan Bedie came in third with 25 per cent and has
endorsed Ouattara in the run-off, but it`s not clear that his
supporters will follow his instructions.

Clashes in recent days between supporters have led to
at least two deaths and there have been reports of voter
intimidation in Gagnoa, where Bedie`s support is strong.