ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s opposition accused President Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday of blocking the release of first results of a tense election because he knew he had lost.
The first main batch of results from Sunday’s run-off were due on Tuesday morning, but the figures did not emerge and the election commission was not reachable for comment. It has until Wednesday to announce a winner.
Gbagbo’s party said it would formally challenge the results in the rebel-held north, where his rival Alassane Ouattara did well in the first round, because of alleged intimidation by rebel New Forces soldiers.
Sunday’s vote was meant to end the process of reunifying the world’s top cocoa grower, divided since a 2002-2003 civil war, but it has underlined the north-south divisions that caused it.
“The presidential camp is trying to prevent the proclamation of the results,” Ouattara’s campaign director Marcel Amon Tanoh told Reuters. “If Mr. Laurent Gbagbo knew he’d won, he wouldn’t have ... prevented the CEI (commission) from speaking on the radio and TV ... Gbagbo knows he’s lost.”
Security forces deployed heavily around the election commission’s office in the main city of Abidjan, which was blocked off with a barrier.
Journalists who had been waiting for results inside the building were told to leave, two separate witnesses said.
The United Nations said the poll had been democratic despite some irregularities, intimidation and violence, and the African Union urged the candidates to accept the results when they were announced.
International observers have also noted the violence but said it was too early to know if it would alter the result.
“Both sides have been prone to provocative claims against the other and should base any election complaints on evidence,” the Carter Center observer mission said, calling on the election commission to stem the spread of rumours by announcing results.
Several cocoa exporters said they had shut down operations. Farmers last week rushed through deliveries in advance of the vote, and supplies this week were expected to be scant.
“There is no point in staying open because yesterday there were no deliveries and there are none expected for this week,” said one exporter, who asked not to be named. “We will probably restart at the beginning of next week, if all is calm.”
March cocoa futures in London rose 37 pounds or 2.1 percent to 1,892 pounds a tonne by 1612 GMT.
On Monday, Gbagbo called for results from three northern regions to be cancelled, alleging intimidation by the New Forces rebels, who he has accused of backing Ouattara.
The rebels have denied the charge. Ouattara’s camp has also complained about the election in Gbagbo’s stronghold in the west, but has not said it will mount a challenge.
The European Union observer mission said that, despite isolated violence and intimidation, the vote had been generally well conducted.
“All in all, it went well,” said EU mission head Cristian Dan Preda. “There were certainly irregularities, intimidation,” he said. The EU visited around 5 percent of voting stations.
But he said a curfew announced by the government had raised tensions.
Meanwhile the military said it had started withdrawing 2,000 soldiers from northerly rebel-held zones to Abidjan.
A Western diplomat who is following the process said U.N. mission chief Y.J. Choi’s endorsement of the vote on Monday was significant. “Any party that wants to challenge the results will have to challenge this analysis. This was an important message.”
Observers said turnout was 65-70 percent, down from the first round, when more than 80 percent of the 5.7 million voters cast ballots.