ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast presidential challenger Alassane Ouattara defeated Laurent Gbagbo in a run-off poll, the electoral commission said on Thursday, but Gbagbo immediately challenged the result.
Ouattara said he planned a national unity government after the chairman of the West African country’s electoral commission said he had won 54.1 percent of the vote.
Gbagbo’s party has already said it will dispute the provisional results, which were announced after an official deadline ran out on Wednesday, and an aide told Reuters on Thursday the result was “not legally valid”.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the U.N. Security Council was ready to take “appropriate measures” against anyone obstructing the electoral process in Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa grower.
After repeated delays, national election commission chairman Youssouf Bakayoko surprised reporters by walking into the U.N.-guarded hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara has made his base and reading off the results, which made Gbagbo the loser with 45.9 percent.
“The electoral commission has, in accordance with the law, handed over to the Constitutional Council, the results it has received and validated, accompanied by the result sheets,” Bakayoko told reporters, adding vote turnout was 81.09 percent.
Cheers erupted from Ouattara supporters gathered at the hotel, which has been placed under U.N. guard with a handful of armoured personnel carriers outside.
An earlier attempt by the election body to publish the results on Tuesday night failed when pro-Gbagbo members of the commission ripped up the sheet of tallies as a spokesman was trying to read them to a news conference.
The provisional results will now go for study by Ivory Coast’s top legal body, the Constitutional Council, which is presided over by a Paul Yao N’Dre, a staunch Gbagbo ally.
The vote, delayed for five years, was meant to reunite the country split in two after a 2002-2003 war, but has instead exposed existing north-south divisions that have exploded into outbreaks of violence.
Security forces shot dead at least four people at a Ouattara party office in an Abidjan suburb overnight, while members of Gbagbo’s party said they had been attacked at their residence in the same suburb by Ouattara’s militants, leaving some wounded.
Fears of unrest pushed cocoa prices up over three percent in Thursday trade. Many Ivorian exporters have suspended business. The yield on Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion Eurobond has ticked slightly higher, reaching 10.68 percent compared to its pre-vote levels of below 10 percent.
The election commission failed to meet a Wednesday deadline to publish provisional results despite concerted international pressure for them to do so.
Gbagbo’s party has already urged the Constitutional Council to cancel the results in the rebel-held north, where Ouattara did well in the first round, alleging intimidation by rebels.
“We have the competence to judge results of the presidential election, which means we can invalidate results in certain voting bureaux where there were problems, permitting us not to count their votes,” said Paul Tayoro, the council’s spokesman.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the world body “would safeguard the electoral process so that the will of the Ivorian people as expressed in the election will be respected”.