Africa

Ivory Coast awaits Gbagbo-Ouattara run-off result

Election official write results on a blackboard
Image caption It should be faster to count votes with just two candidates

Votes are being counted in the run-off for Ivory Coast's first presidential elections in 10 years, intended to reunify the war-divided country.

A close race is forecast between President Laurent Gbagbo and opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara.

At least three people were killed and both sides have said some of their supporters were prevented from voting.

The first results are expected later on Monday with the electoral commission under pressure to release them quickly.

The BBC's John James in the main city, Abidjan, says that delays announcing the result from the first round last month raised tensions.

A night-time curfew has been imposed and will run until Wednesday, following incidents of violence during the campaign.

UN envoy to Ivory Coast Youn-jin Choi said three people had been killed but said the violence was "localised" and overall the voting had taken place in a "democratic climate", reports the AFP news agency.

A government official earlier said two people were shot dead by traditional hunters in the centre-west cocoa-producing region amid clashes between rival supporters on voting day.

This area is seen as a potential flashpoint, as the local community mostly back President Gbagbo, who is from their Bete ethnic group, while most of those who work the fields have migrated to the area from other parts of the country where support is strong for Mr Ouattara.

Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa producer and used to be considered a haven of peace and prosperity in West Africa.

Mr Ouattara's RDR party has said pro-Gbagbo youths set up road-blocks to prevent his supporters and election agents reaching polling stations in parts of the centre-west.

But the Dozo hunters who allegedly shot dead one soldier and a civilian are considered to be close to the northern New Forces ex-rebels, who Mr Gbagbo's supporters say are linked to Mr Outtara.

'Veritable democracy'

Allies of the president say the New Forces "ransacked polling stations" in areas they control in the north and that voting in the part of the country was "not transparent".

At least three people were shot dead in Abidjan on Saturday during protests against the curfew, which opposition supporters say could open the door to electoral fraud.

The military has appealed for calm and additional security forces have been deployed around the country.

Long queues were reported in Abidjan while some stations opened late as the curfew prevented ballot officials from arriving on time.

Mr Gbagbo said he had received reports of "irregularities" in some parts of the country, but was confident the election would be a success.

"We have a lot of hope we will overcome all these irregularities to put in place a veritable democracy," he told reporters.

The curfew was announced after earlier clashes in and around Abidjan, the commercial capital, in which at least four people were killed and dozens injured.

Mr Ouattara said the curfew was illegal and unconstitutional, arguing it should come only after the election if there was trouble.

No candidate received more than 50% of the vote in the first round four weeks ago, leaving the two front-runners to go head-to-head.

The result is expected to be extremely close, our reporter says - testament to the fact these are the first open democratic elections the country has seen in 50 years since independence.

The two candidates left in the race represent the two sides of the north-south divide that exists religiously, culturally and administratively, our correspondent says, with the northern half still controlled in part by the soldiers who took part in the 2002 rebellion.

The elections have been cancelled six times in the past five years.

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