By MARCO CHOWN OVED, Associated Press
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast – Gunmen attacked an office of presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara, killing four people, authorities said Thursday as Ivory Coast tensely waited for election results whose release was blocked by the president’s followers.
The unidentified assailants used automatic weapons during the overnight attack and were able to get to the site and escape despite a curfew. Four people died and 14 were wounded in the attack in the Abidjan district of Yopougon, said Coulibaly Diomande, the local security chief for the opposition party.
Ouattara’s party accuses incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo — whose mandate expired five years ago — of trying to steal the long-awaited ballot. Gbagbo loyalists, apparently fearing they don’t have enough votes for victory, have prevented the commission from announcing results from Sunday’s election, saying tallies from at least four of the country’s 19 regions should be canceled.
Damana Picasse, a commission member from Gbagbo’s party, on Tuesday night yanked a list of results from electoral commission spokesman Bamba Yacouba’s hand and ripped them up, yelling: “We did not sign off on these results!”
The vote, which international observers declared free and fair, was expected to restore stability to Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer. But the longer the results are delayed, the more the uncertainty grows. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed “deep concern.”
On Thursday morning, traffic was unusually scant in the normally bustling lagoon-side city of Abidjan as residents were too nervous to leave home. Security forces have beefed up their presence. Pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on their beds and small tanks took up positions on the main arteries Wednesday night.
This West African nation has been under curfew since last Saturday night. Gbagbo extended it by another five days on Wednesday.
Ivory Coast’s electoral code stipulates the commission has three days to issue provisional results. The constitutional council then has seven days to consider appeals before making those results official. The Ivorian constitution states that under extraordinary circumstances the council — whose president Paul Yao N’Dreo is a member of Gbagbo’s ruling party — has 24 hours to decide if the electoral process should be stopped.
“Authority now passes to the constitutional council,” said Alain Mosso, 48, a law professor at the University of Bouake. “The council decides which results to announce and which results to throw out.”
The vote was the first in 10 years following a brief civil war that split the country in two, leaving the northern half in the hands of rebels sympathetic to Ouattara. They have yet to disarm.
The country has been struggling to hold a vote since a 2007 peace deal, leading to the dismantlement of a U.N.-patrolled buffer zone that had marked the divide between the rebel-held north and the loyalist south.
Pillay warned late Wednesday that the country’s leaders “may be held accountable for any violence committed in their name” and said that given the tense situation, the two candidates and their supporters must “refrain from statements that incite violence, and from any course of action designed to deprive the people … of their right to democracy.”
Gbagbo, whose five-year mandate officially expired in 2005, has stayed in office while claiming elections were impossible because of the 2002-2003 war. Disputes over who would be allowed on voter rolls — more than one-third of the population are economic migrants from neighboring countries — fueled the delays.
Gbagbo led the first round of voting in October with 38 percent to Ouattara’s 32 percent. Ouattara then won the endorsement of the third-place contestant who received 25 percent.
Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report from Geneva.