Ivory Coast ex-rebel leader asks army to join opposition

A policeman walks past a burning barricade during a protest after security forces blocked the access to the house of former President Henri Konan Bedie in Abidjan [Leo Correa/AP]
A policeman walks past a burning barricade during a protest after security forces blocked the access to the house of former President Henri Konan Bedie in Abidjan.

An influential former rebel leader has told Ivory Coast’s army to mutiny and back a rival breakaway government in the wake of a contested presidential election that the opposition says was illegal. President Alassane Ouattara won the election with 94 percent of the vote, according to the electoral commission.

However, the opposition boycotted the vote, arguing Ouattara’s bid for a third term broke a legal two-term limit and undermined the country’s democratic process. Police in riot gear surrounded the houses of two of Ouattara’s main rivals on Wednesday after the government accused them of sedition for creating a parallel administration in defiance of Saturday’s victory declaration. Guillaume Soro, who led the rebels that swept Ouattara to power during that war, but whose relationship with the president has since soured, released a message on Facebook on Wednesday night, calling on the army to join the opposition government.

“Turning now to our security and Defence force I’m asking you to disobey illegal orders and join the national transitional council,” he said. “We cannot, out of fear, allow dictatorship in Ivory Coast by Alassane Ouattara.” It was unclear if there was any reaction to the statement late on Wednesday, but it added to tensions that many fear could help destabilize a region beset by political unrest. The standoff has raised concerns about instability in the world’s top cocoa producer, where a civil war killed 3,000 people in 2010-2011 following a disputed election between Ouattara and his predecessor, Laurent Gbagbo.

This election season, more than 40 people died in clashes, the United Nations refugee agency said more than 3,200 people had fled into neighbouring Liberia, Ghana and Togo, fearing violence. In neighbouring Guinea, a similar election crisis in which President Alpha Conde won a third term last month caused rioting in which dozens have died, Guinea also has a two-term limit but like Ouattara, Conde said a recent change to the constitution allowed him to restart his mandate.

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