ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast’s Constitutional Council declared incumbent Laurent Gbagbo the winner of a presidential election on Friday, overturning provisional results that had showed rival Alassane Ouattara as the victor.
The decision by the top legal body, which is headed by a staunch Gbagbo ally, came minutes after Ouattara’s camp had vowed it would reject such a move and warned of a possible return to civil war.
Constitutional Council President Paul Yao N’dre, a member of Gbagbo’s party, cancelled votes from four regions in the rebel-held north giving Gbagbo 51 percent of the total vote and reversing a near 10 percent margin on Ouattara’s win in provisional results.
“The vote results in the (disputed) districts have been annulled. Mr Gbagbo, Laurent is declared elected president of Ivory Coast,” N’dre announced on state television.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission and international observers from the European Union, African Union and the Carter Centre had all said the vote was generally free and fair.
The announcement propelled cocoa futures higher, with the March contract rising more than 2 percent to 1,962 pounds a tonne as the rising threat of unrest triggered market fears of disrupted supplies from the world’s top grower.
Earlier, Ouattara’s allies warned of dire consequences of just such a move, widely predicted by Ivory Coast-watchers.
“We will not recognise any decisions by the constitutional council taken under such conditions,” Amadou Gon, senior member of Ouattara’s campaign, told a media conference.
A second Ouattara aide warned of the consequences of overturning the results.
“By doing that they will cement the division of the country ... If Yao N’Dre does it he will be to blame for the next war in Ivory Coast,” said the aide, Jeannot Ahoussou.
The continental African Union grouping issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” by developments in Ivory Coast.
After many delays, the election commission said on Thursday former IMF official Ouattara had won the November 28 run-off with 54.1 percent of the vote compared with 45.9 percent for Gbagbo.
However Gbagbo’s allies alleged mass vote-rigging in the rebel-held north and said the results were invalid as the commission missed by one day the deadline for publication — an argument the constitutional council had swiftly upheld.
The long-delayed election was meant to reunite a country split into north and south by a 2002-2003 war, but instead it has reopened those divisions, with reports of up to 16 shot dead by security forces in violence since the run-off.
Rebel forces in the north had in principle agreed to disarm as part of the peace process before the vote but they remain in control of the north and many have not given up their weapons.
Ivory Coast’s $2.3 billion Eurobond, a bellwether of recovery hopes for what used to be one of the region’s star performing economies, yielded 10.9 percent early on Friday, up from pre-vote levels of below 10 percent.