Côte d’Ivoire’s Supreme Court on Monday cleared the way for President Alassane Ouattara to seek a controversial third term as protests escalated in several cities and fears grew of a repeat of the conflict that claimed 3,000 lives in West Africa a decade ago.
The Constitutional Council also prevented former President Laurent Gbagbo and former rebel leader turned Prime Minister Guillaume Soro from running in next month’s presidential election.
It cleared only four of the 44 candidates for the October 31 presidential election.
In the economic capital Abidjan, protesters fired a bus into the Yopougon workers’ district after clashes broke out between security forces and youths earlier in the day.
The district is believed to be a district for exiled former President Gbagbo, whose supporters had submitted an application for him to vote.
It was Gbagbo’s refusal to concede defeat to Ouattara after the 2010 elections that triggered the bloody conflict in the former French colony, formerly a beacon for stability and prosperity in the region.
In the west-western city of Bangolo, protesters set fire to a mine truck and other vehicles on Monday, according to a resident, who added that the gendarmes dispersed them with tear gas.
Witnesses said security forces removed barricades set up by protesters on several roads in the western country.
About 15 people have died in violence since Ouattara, 78, announced last month that he would run for a third term.
The unrest has political observers worried that the vote could destabilize Ivory Coast, the world’s leading cocoa producer and French – speaking West Africa’s largest economy.
Although the constitution limits presidents to two terms, Ouattara and his supporters claim that a constitutional tweak in 2016 reset the clock.
The president had previously pledged not to run again, but he changed his mind after the anointed successor – Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibalys – died suddenly from a heart attack in July.
The Electoral Commission has said anyone convicted of a crime will be disqualified and has already prevented Soro from running when he was sentenced in April to 20 years in prison for “hiding public embezzlement”.
Gbagbo has been sentenced in absentia to a 20-year period of looting of the local branch of the Central Bank of the West African states during the 2010-11 crisis.
Former President Henri Konan Bedie is expected to be the opposition’s main flag bearer, and his PDCI party nominated the 86-year-old as a candidate on Saturday.
At a demonstration attended by tens of thousands of supporters in the capital Yamoussoukro, Bedie promised if he was elected to work for “the unconditional return of all exiles, as well as the release of all political, civilian and military prisoners from the post-election crisis”.
Bedie is seeking to return to the presidency after being ousted in the country’s first coup in 1999.