Clashes broke out Thursday ahead of Ivory Coast's tense presidential run-off as President Laurent Gbagbo and rival Alassane Ouattara faced off in a televised debate. Gbagbo said he would enforce a curfew after Sunday's vote to prevent unrest.
AP - Ivory Coast votes for a president Sunday hoping to end a decade of instability in the once-booming country, following a second-round election campaign marred by bloodshed.
Ivorians are seeking to stabilise what was once west Africa's most prosperous country, beset by civil war and political deadlock following a 1999 coup, with elections put off six times in the past five years.
The contenders, President Laurent Gbagbo and his old rival, former prime minister Alassane Ouattara, are looking to grab votes from defeated candidate Henri Konan Bedie, amid complex ethnic and political loyalties.
"Eleven years of turbulence is enough. It's time to stop it," Gbagbo said Thursday in the country's first-ever televised election debate. Both he and Ouattara called for a free and peaceful vote.
Having hardened their tone in recent days the two debated calmly on screen, but continued to blame each other for violence and the political crisis that has crippled the country.
Ggagbo has argued that he has a track record of leadership to steer the country to peace, while Ouattara's backers tout his economic credentials as a former executive of the International Monetary Fund.
"I am a former economist. I ask you to trust me," Ouattara said Thursday in the debate, promising to draw investors to Ivory Coast, the source of much of the world's cocoa and other commodities.
Gbagbo retorted that in a president "people aren't necessarily looking for a good economist. The great leaders weren't necessarily all good economists... You have to know how to lead a state."
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.
And while third-placed Bedie, now out of the running, has called for his supporters to back Ouattara, it is by no means clear how many of them will heed him.
Calls for calm have multiplied and international forces have bolstered their deployments amid street clashes between rival supporters which turned deadly Thursday.
Officials said a Ouattara supporter stabbed to death a young Gbagbo backer in Bayota, a western pro-Gbagbo stronghold.
Gbagbo said he would enforce a curfew on Sunday after voting had finished to prevent unrest.
2010-11-26 08:41-WB EN TOP STORY
"The elections must take place, but from 10:00 pm (2200 GMT), when the ballots are being returned, there must be a curfew so the streets will be free and police and gendarmes will patrol," Gbagbo said in the debate.
Ouattara said the disturbances were "localised" but added: "I want to say to all my countrymen that these elections must be peaceful."
He added: "I hope to win because I want to offer something to my country (but) if I lose, it's not a problem," he said during the debate.
Religious leaders, the United Nations mission and the European Union have also urged calm ahead of the decisive vote, aimed at turning the page after a civil war split the country in two in 2002.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton expressed concern that the campaign was "radicalising", which could pose security risks. She called for a "dignified and non-violent campaign."
"The first round was relatively peaceful, despite technical flaws, but both camps could now be tempted, in the event of defeat, to contest the results in the street," analysts at the International Crisis Group warned in a report.
It said Sunday was "a unique opportunity to end a decade of crisis and recurring violence, as well as an unexpected chance to create the conditions for an economic revival that would be important for all West Africa."
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning