Ivory Coast’s head of state, Alassane Ouattara, has blasted attempts by two rivals to contest next month’s presidential elections as “provocation” and says one of them belongs behind bars.
In an interview published on Thursday by the French magazine Paris Match, the 78-year-old incumbent fired a verbal broadside at former president Laurent Gbagbo and ex-rebel chief Guillaume Soro.
Both men are living outside the country but retain powerful support at home, in a country still scarred by a post-election conflict that claimed more than 3,000 lives nearly a decade ago.
The top Ivorian court overseeing elections, the Constitutional Council, rejected their bids to take part in the October 31 ballot on the grounds that they had been tried and sentenced in absentia.
“Soro, like Gbagbo, was excluded because he has a criminal record,” Ouattara said.
“Each of them are perfectly aware that their candidacies are based on provocation … Guillaume Soro doesn’t deserve to be on the campaign trail but in prison,” he said.
“This young man, drunk on money and power, has simply lost his head.”
Ouattara and Gbagbo battled for control of the country after Gbagbo lost 2010’s presidential election and refused to hand over the reins. The resulting violence left 3,000 dead.
Ouattara was given crucial help at that time by Soro, 47, who under Ouattara’s ensuing presidency was appointed prime minister and then speaker of the parliament, before the pair fell out last year.
Gbagbo, 75, was freed conditionally by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague after he was cleared in January 2019 of crimes against humanity.
He is living in Brussels pending the outcome of an appeal against the ICC ruling.
His election candidacy was rejected on the grounds that he was handed a 20-year jail term by an Ivorian court last November over the looting of the local branch of the Central Bank of West African States during the post-election crisis.
Soro, who lives in France, was barred from contesting the election on the grounds of a 20-year sentence, also in absentia, for alleged embezzlement of public funds handed down in April.
Thirty-eight other candidates were ruled out by the Constitutional Council, leaving just four, including Ouattara.
His application ignited accusations that he is seeking to sidestep constitutional limits on presidential terms. Fifteen people died in clashes last month.
Ouattara, re-elected in 2015, had announced earlier this year that he would not seek a third term.
But he changed his mind after his preferred successor, prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died of a sudden heart attack in July.
He argued that a 2016 revision of the constitution reset the term limit to zero – a view backed by the Constitutional Council but which prompted outrage among the country’s opposition.
The country’s National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) on Thursday expressed its “deep concern” at the situation ahead of the election “which certainly creates the conditions for serious violations of human rights and poses serious threats to social peace”.
After meeting with 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 start “inclusive dialogue to find lasting solutions”.
It also called for investigations to be launched into “allegations of violence constituting human rights violations”.