Candidates face off in TV debate ahead of second-round vote
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Presidential candidates Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara have confirmed they will take part in an unprecedented televised debate on Thursday, three days before the Ivory Coast’s long-awaited run-off poll.
AFP - Ivory Coast's tense presidential campaigning neared a climax on Thursday with rivals Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara preparing for an unprecedented televised debate.
Calls for calm multiplied following a series of street clashes involving rival supporters in recent days which left several people injured, as the two candidates hardened the tone of their campaigns.
"Beware of rising violence", ran a headline in the state newspaper Fraternite Matin on Thursday, echoing calls from religious leaders, UN and other observers and Ouattara himself.
Sunday's election seeks to end 10 years of instability in Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer and formerly west Africa's most prosperous country, seized by civil war and later political deadlock following a 1999 coup.
The two old rivals confirmed they would take part in a televised debate Thursday evening, before the last day of campaigning on Friday.
Each has blamed the other for the west African nation's crises over the past decade.
Gbagbo, who has held on to power since his term expired in 2005 and is fighting for re-election, won 38 percent of the first-round vote last month and his old rival, former prime minister Ouattara, took 32 percent.
Each is now seeking to grab votes from supporters of the defeated first-round candidate, former president Henri Konan Bedie, but three days from the crucial vote there were few indicators of who had the edge.
"An unprecedented bare-knuckle bout, but who will win it?" asked Nord-Sud, a daily close to the country's northern rebel movement on Thursday ahead of the televised debate, which it tagged "The big night".
Rival supporters scuffled in the economic capital Abidjan on Wednesday, witnesses said, one in a series of bouts of violence between rival supporters, including a big clash on Friday.
Scuffles broke out on Wednesday when hundreds of supporters of Ouattara tried to hold a gathering in the western district of Yopougon, a stronghold of support for Gbagbo, a local resident told AFP.
Campaigning in southwestern Ivory Coast on Wednesday, Ouattara urged an end to violence.
"For the love of Ivory Coast, stop!" he said. "We want to live in peace in our country."
Religious leaders and the UN mission have urged calm ahead of Sunday's decisive vote, aimed at ending a decade of crisis in the west African country, which has seen civil war and elections cancelled six times in five years.
Prominent non-government group CSCI said in a statement on Tuesday it feared tensions could degenerate into "an uncontrollable situation" after results are announced early next week.
The United Nations has agreed to transfer 500 extra troops and an air unit to join its 8,500 peacekeepers in the country and Ivory Coast's CCI joint force of government and rebel troops has bolstered deployments to secure the vote.
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