Low turnout in Ivory Coast parliamentary elections

President Alassane Ouattara casts his ballot at a polling station in Cocody on 11 December 2011 President Alassane Ouattara urged Ivorians to go out and vote

There has been a low turnout in the first parliamentary vote in Ivory Coast since violence sparked by a presidential election a year ago.

Five million people were eligible to vote but the party of Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to step down set off the violence, boycotted the poll.

The vote passed off peacefully, including in pro-Gbagbo areas.

President Alassane Ouattara said the election was an essential step towards rebuilding democracy in Ivory Coast.

UN troops were on patrol for the vote in the Ivorian commercial capital, Abidjan.

Mr Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of crimes against humanity.

Mr Gbagbo's party, the Ivorian Popular Front party, has accused the electoral commission of bias in favour of the current President, Alassane Ouattara.

It also accuses the army of intimidating supporters during the campaign.

Peaceful poll

Earlier in the day, election officials had spoken of small numbers turning out to vote in comparison with the presidential elections last year.

Casting his vote at midday, President Ouattara urged Ivorians to go to the polls. Nearly 1,000 candidates stood for election to 255 posts.

At the scene

With the opposition by and large not taking part, this has turned into a contest between the two main parties in the government coalition. An overall victory for President Ouattara's RDR party would give him a strong platform for his remaining four years in charge.

If his coalition allies, the PDCI, take the most seats in the national assembly, it would give them a stronger hand in seeking concessions from the president. While many candidates have been promising new roads, bridges and schools in their constituencies, the reality is that they have little power, something that explains in part the lack of Ivorians at polling stations.

"In my view, this election is essential because for the past 11 years, Ivorians have not been able to vote for their representatives in parliament," he said.

One voter, Vincent Dano, said he thought the political crisis earlier this year may have affected the turnout.

"I voted. Not a lot of people have," he told the Associated Press news agency. "Many people lost their identity cards during the crisis, so they can't vote."

The boycott by the opposition created a sterile election campaign, with almost all the candidates coming from the pro-government coalition, the BBC's John James in Abidjan reports.

Voter turnout appears to have been low even in normally pro-Ouattara areas but there have been no reports of violence and the atmosphere at polling stations - even in pro-Gbagbo areas - was peaceful, he says.

He says that many voters found it hard to get excited about the poll, regardless of their political views, because of the limited powers given to the national assembly.

Nevertheless, for the new government, a peaceful and well-run poll will help show investors that Ivory Coast is back up and running, our correspondent adds.

Thousands of people were killed in the months that followed presidential polls last December after Mr Gbagbo refused to hand over power, claiming he had won.

Mr Gbagbo, who was arrested in April and flown to The Hague last month, faces four charges of crimes against humanity.

He is accused of being an "indirect co-perpetrator" of murder, rape, persecution and other inhuman acts.

Hundreds of his supporters protested against his detention outside the ICC in The Hague on Saturday, some wearing T-shirts with the slogan "No Gbagbo, No Peace".

Human rights groups welcomed the arrest warrant, but said that, while Mr Gbagbo's forces had triggered the violence, both sides had been implicated in grave crimes.

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