Ivory Coast’s head of state, Alassane Ouattara, has blown up two rivals’ attempt to challenge next month’s presidential election as “provocation”, saying one of them is behind bars.
In an interview published Thursday by the French magazine Paris Match, the 78-year-old sitting fired a verbal breadth against former President Laurent Gbagbo and former rebel leader Guillaume Soro.
Both men live outside the country, but retain strong support at home, in a country still scarred by a post-election conflict that claimed more than 3,000 lives almost a decade ago.
The Ivorian primary court, the Constitutional Council, rejected their bid to take part in the vote on 31 October on the grounds that they had been tried and convicted in absentia.
“Soro, like Gbagbo, was ruled out because he has a criminal record,” Ouattara said.
“Each of them is fully aware that their candidacies are based on provocation … Guillaume Soro deserves not to be on the campaign track, but in prison,” he said.
“This young man, full of money and power, has simply lost his head.”
‘Serious threats to peace’
Ouattara and Gbagbo fought for control of the country after Gbagbo lost the 2010 presidential election and refused to hand over the reins. The resulting violence left 3,000 dead.
Ouattara was given crucial help at the time by Soro, 47, who during Ouattara’s subsequent presidency was appointed prime minister and then parliamentary speaker before the couple fell out last year.
Gbagbo, 75, was released on parole by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague after he was cleared in January 2019 for crimes against humanity.
He lives in Brussels awaiting the outcome of an appeal against the ICC ruling.
His candidacy was rejected on the grounds that he was given a 20-year jail term by an Ivorian court in November last year for looting the local branch of the Central Bank of the West African states during the post-election crisis.
Soro, who lives in France, was prevented from contesting the election due to a 20-year sentence, also in his absence, for alleged embezzlement of public funds handed down in April.
Thirty-eight other candidates were expelled by the Constitutional Council, leaving only four, including Ouattara.
His application ignited accusations that he was trying to avoid constitutional limits on the president’s terms. Fifteen people died in clashes last month.
Ouattara, re-elected in 2015, had earlier this year announced he would not seek a third term.
But he changed his mind after his favorite successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died of a sudden heart attack in July.
He claimed that a revision of the Constitution in 2016 zeroed the time limit to zero – a view backed by the Constitutional Council but which provoked anger among the country’s opposition.
The country’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH) on Thursday expressed its “deep concern” over the pre-election situation “which certainly creates conditions for serious human rights violations and poses serious threats to social peace”.
After meeting the main opposition candidates and the ruling party in recent days, the CNDH in a statement called on all the country’s political forces to take measures to guarantee public freedoms and launch “inclusive dialogue to find lasting solutions”.
It also called for an investigation into “allegations of violence that constitute human rights violations”.