United Nations troops are on patrol in the Ivorian commercial capital, Abidjan, as the country braces for parliamentary elections on Sunday. The vote is the first since presidential polls a year ago sparked months of violence after the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to step down.
Mr Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity. His Ivorian Popular Front party has called for an election boycott. The former president and his supporters claim the electoral commission is loyal to the new governing party led by Mr Gbagbo’s rival, President Alassane Ouattara, and will falsify the results. They also accuses the army of intimidating supporters during the campaign.
Hundreds of his supporters protested against his detention outside the ICC in the Dutch capital The Hague on Saturday, some wearing t-shirts with the slogan “No Gbagbo, No Peace”. Thousands of people were killed in the months that followed presidential polls last December after Mr Gbagbo refused to hand over power, claiming he had won.
Observers are concerned that Sunday’s vote, in which 950 candidates are vying for 255 posts, could trigger fresh violence. On Wednesday, three people were killed in a rocket-launcher attack, according to Ivorian Defence Minister Paul Koffi Koffi.
Mr Gbagbo, who was flown to The Hague last last month, faces four charges of crimes against humanity. He is accused of being an “indirect co-perpetrator” of murder, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts. Human rights groups welcomed the arrest warrant but said that, while Mr Gbagbo’s forces had triggered the violence, both sides had been implicated in grave crimes.