November 24, 2010 / 10:31 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-EU slams Ivorian poll commission for 'obstruction'

* EU mission says election body blocking observers’ access

* Crucial Ivorian poll seen as close and tense

* U.N. sending 500 extra peacekeepers from Liberia (Adds U.N. Security Council resolution in paragraphs 13-15)

ABIDJAN, Nov 24 (Reuters) - A European Union mission sent to observe Ivory Coast’s presidential poll has accused the nation’s electoral commission of “unacceptable obstruction,” a complaint that may raise questions over the poll’s transparency.

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

The poll, which is five years overdue and is likely to be both extremely close and tense, is meant to draw a line under years of political and military stalemate after a 2002 rebellion split the West African nation in two.

“The mission deplores the lack of respect by the CEI (independent electoral commission) of its agreements with observers,” it said in a statement.

“Despite a number of requests addressed to the CEI, the EU mission continues to face significant obstacles accessing electoral operations,” it added.

Officials at the electoral commission were not immediately available for comment.

Observers have criticized the commission in the first round on Oct. 31 for taking over three days to deliver the results and for excluding them from monitoring some of the tallying process.

“I consider these practices of obstruction unacceptable,” said Christian Dan Preda, the EU’s mission chief. “This mission is in Ivory Coast at the invitation of the Ivorian authorities, who have a commitment to ensure free access to electoral processes.”


The first round result gave Gbagbo the lead with 38 percent, with Ouattara trailing with 32 percent.

Third place finisher Henri Konan Bedie disputed the results, which he said had been doctored between the first count and the tally to deny him thousands of ballots.

But United Nations mission chief Y.J. Choi said the poll was generally free and fair when he validated the results, adding that any irregularities could not have affected the outcome.

A successful vote should help pave the way for reforms to the cocoa sector and encourage investors to return to a country seeking to diversify its economy, but disputes over the results could easily result in street violence, as in past polls.

At the United Nations on Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council authorized three infantry companies and two utility helicopters from the U.N. mission in Liberia to reinforce U.N. peacekeepers in Ivory Coast for the second round.

A council resolution said the reinforcements, totaling some 500 troops, would stay a maximum of four weeks in Ivory Coast, which already hosts 8,000 U.N. soldiers and 1,500 police. Diplomats said they would be in place by Saturday.

In a statement read out by current council president Mark Lyall Grant of Britain, the 15-nation body expressed concern over recent incidents in Ivory Coast and called upon both presidential candidates to restrain their supporters from any acts of violence. (Reporting by Tim Cocks in Abidjan and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; editing by Todd Eastham)

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