ABIDJAN – Opposition activists are threatening to block access to polling stations Saturday in an effort to disrupt the presidential election in Ivory Coast, where incumbent Alassane Ouattara is seeking a controversial third term after nearly a decade in power.
An alliance of opposition parties is boycotting the vote and has called on activists to prevent polling stations from opening, setting up a potential showdown in a country where post-election violence killed more than 3,000 people in 2010-2011.
In a sign of mounting tensions, unknown gunmen fired on a motorcade that included one of the president's campaign directors near Agbaou, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) north of Abidjan, witnesses said. No one was hurt in Thursday night's attack, officials said.
On Friday, anti-Ouattara protesters set up roadblocks in neighborhoods of the capital, Yamoussoukro, while south of Abidjan youths blocked access roads to the city with tree trunks.
At least 20 people have died in unrest leading up to the vote, though the opposition puts the death toll at 70. The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has expressed deep concern about “an escalation of serious violence over the past few days in some towns and cities.”
“I call on all political actors and their supporters to show calm and restraint,” Fatou Bensouda said. “The violence seen in Ivory Coast during the first pre-election crisis of 2010 must not be repeated.”
The 2010 presidential election brought months of violence after then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Ouattara. Ouattara ultimately prevailed and Gbagbo was acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, but many now fear that anger over the president's bid for a third term could reignite old rivalries.
At the president's final campaign rally in the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan, supporters carried signs proclaiming “say no to violence.” However, tempers flared as crowds of thousands pushed and jockeyed to get closer to the stage where Ouattara briefly addressed his fans.