Violence, Irregularities Plague Ivory Coast Vote

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The West African nation of Ivory Coast is emerging from a decade of political trouble — it faced a rebellion and a civil war. Now the people have voted for president amid reports of violence and irregularities. An electoral commission announces the results Monday.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're going next to a country where just having an election may count as a step forward. Ivory Coast, on the shores of West Africa, is emerging from a decade of political trouble. It faced rebellion and civil war. Now, the people have voted for president. An electoral commission announces results today, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Voting was largely peaceful in the main city Abidjan, despite some reports of violence and irregularities elsewhere in the nation. But turnout is said to be down from the 84 percent who voted last month in the first round of the much-anticipated and much-delayed presidential election in Ivory Coast. Many blame the last-minute curfew, imposed by President Laurent, Gbagbo for discouraging and delaying voters.

(Soundbite of chanting)

QUIST-ARCTON: After casting his own vote, Gbagbo told reporters and enthusiastic supporters that the curfew was needed for their own security.

President LAURENT GBAGBO (President, Ivory Coast): (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Gbagbo then went on to say he was confident he would triumph and be re-elected as president.

Opposition candidate, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara was equally upbeat about his chances of winning the vote.

Mr. ALASSANE OUATTARA (Presidential Candidate, Ivory Coast): (Through interpreter) It is important for our country. We need with this election, with my election, that Cote d'Ivoire will be able to embark on real change to get out of this crisis and have a happy, happy future.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ivory Coast has been divided since a 2002-2003 civil war left rebels in charge of the north. The election is meant to heal that divide. Whoever wins the vote will run the nation for the next five years. The question is whether the results of the presidential election will be deemed legitimate. That, says independent analyst Gilles Yabi, focused minds, but also tensions after years of divisions, ethnic violence, and questions about who is entitled to call themselves Ivorian.

Mr. GILLES YABI (Analyst): It is an opportunity to end the crisis but unfortunately, it's also a possibility to launch again the political crisis in the country, if the election is not considered being free and fair and the results are not accepted by both candidates. There have been some serious incidents.

QUIST-ARCTON: Yabi warns that how Gbagbo and Ouattara react is crucial. The two held a courteous presidential debate Thursday night.

Mr. YABI: It remains to be seen if they will keep to their commitment to accept the results, and that it's clear that - with two candidates who qualify for the second run. We have militants who have already showed, in the past, their capacity to act violently. So yes, I'm afraid that the tension will mount as people wait for the first, preliminary results from the electoral commission.

QUIST-ARCTON: But 82-year-old voter Madame Koutouan Marie-Madeleine Nanguy summed up the feelings of most Ivorians. She wants reconciliation, unity and peace after a decade of crisis and uncertainty.

Ms. KOUTOUAN MARIE-MADELEINE NANGUY: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: We want peace. Our country needs peace. We're tired of war, says this elderly voter. No to war. We're getting old. We need peace.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Abidjan.

(Soundbite of music)

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