November 25, 2010 / 8:36 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-U.N. warns Ivorian candidates against victory claims

* U.N. tells rivals to wait for official poll results

* France urges Ivorian politicians to show calm

* Electoral commission calls EU observers “contemptuous”

(Adds ICG, EU warnings, mediator flying in)

By Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN, Nov 25 (Reuters) - The chief of the U.N. mission to Ivory Coast has urged both candidates in Sunday’s election run-off not to claim victory before results are announced, amid fears of violence in a country torn by conflict in recent years. Y.J. Choi, the head of the 8-year-old peacekeeping mission in the West African nation, said he was conscious of the risk of clashes. Youths with sticks and machetes in the Abidjan suburb of Attencoube clashed, wounding some, witnesses said.

Top cocoa grower Ivory Coast faces a decisive second-round poll on Sunday between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara.

The vote, which is five years overdue and is likely to be extremely close, is meant to end years of military stalemate after a 2002 rebellion split the nation in two. But there are fears of post-election violence if results are contested.

“I’m launching an appeal to the two candidates in the second round to abstain from proclaiming the results of the election themselves,” Choi told a news conference on Thursday.

He added that the country’s electoral commission had agreed to be quicker in giving out the results. In round one, it took more than two days to deliver significant regional tallies and more than three to give a provisional result.

“Based on experience from the first round and the tensions and speculation that accompanied the wait for the results, I’m pleased by the electoral commission’s decision to progressively release the results on the night of Nov. 28,” he said.

CLASHES

The first round result gave Gbagbo the lead with 38 percent and Ouattara 32. Exchanges between the two have become increasingly heated and their younger supporters have clashed.

Youths loyal to different candidates clashed on Thursday, injuring around a dozen, witnesses said.

“There were some battles between the young people of our village and the opposition youths marching through it. I saw some people injured,” said Edwige Anekore, from a village in the sprawling Abidjan suburbs.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) called on candidates to tone down their rhetoric to avoid violence spiralling out of control after the election results are announced.

“Since the announcement of the results of the first round, the climate has deteriorated,” ICG’s Rinaldo Depagne said in report released on Thursday. “If the unrest continues, it risks derailing the entire electoral process.”

Former colonial master France, whose citizens have often been attacked by Gbagbo’s youth supporters, and the European Union each issued statements also calling for calm.

“We call upon all ... to show calm, restraint and responsibility,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

The office of the mediator of Ivory Coast’s conflict, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore — who won a landslide re-election himself according to provisional results on Thursday [ID:nLDE6AO206] — announced he would arrive in Ivory Coast on Saturday to calm the situation, which was “boiling over”.

Gbagbo and Ouattara will hold a live TV debate on the state-run RTI channel this evening.

Responding to criticisms from the European Union that it had blocked their observers from monitoring preparations for round two, the electoral commission accused the EU of “interference”.

“We note that some CEI (electoral commission) commissioners were greeted with a haughty and contemptuous attitude by some observers from the European Union. That attitude irritated a good number of commissioners,” its statement said. (Additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Abidjan and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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