Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara on Monday invited his chief rival Henri Konan Bedie for talks to defuse a dispute over his reelection to a third term as clashes killed at least nine people.
Around 50 people have been killed in poll-linked violence since August, reviving fears over a repeat of a post-election crisis a decade ago that left 3,000 people dead.
Ouattara, 78, invited Bedie for a “meeting in the next few days for an open and sincere dialogue to help to restore confidence” and urged opposition leaders to end their protests.
His announcement came after at least nine people died in clashes in the centre of the country as the top Ivorian court formally validated the election results and Ouattara’s third term.
“I ask all my fellow citizens in the spirit of appeasement... to work to strengthen peace,” Ouattara said in a national broadcast.
There was no immediate response from Bedie, an 86-year-old veteran politician and former president in the West African country.
Bedie's home in Abidjan has been blockaded by security forces and two other leaders have been arrested in an investigation into insurrection after their election protest.
Opposition chiefs had called for a campaign of civil disobedience over the vote because they said Ouattara was violating the two-term presidential limits.
Ouattara says a 2016 reform allowed him to run again by effectively resetting the term limits to zero.
New clashes between rival ethnic communities broke out on Monday in central eastern Daoukro, Bedie’s fiefdom, officials said, as well as disturbances in other regions.
Clashes in Daoukro left six dead and 41 wounded on Monday, local government administrator Solange Aka told AFP.
She said one person had been decapitated and another burned as protesters barricaded roads.
Three more people were killed in central Elibou during clashes between security forces and protesters blocking a highway, local residents said. Officials did not immediately confirm those deaths, however.
Much of the violence has descended into fighting between local ethnic groups allied with the opposition and Dioula communities seen as close to Ouattara, a Muslim from the north.
Constitutional Council President Mamadou Kone said Monday that the top court ratified the results and noted “no serious irregularities” in the conduct of the election.
“Alassane Ouattara is proclaimed elected in the first round,” Kone said in a statement broadcast on television.
Ivory Coast’s opposition leaders are now under investigation for insurrection and terrorism after they rejected the result and called for their rival “transitional” government.
Two opposition leaders, former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan and Maurice Kakou Guikahue, deputy of Bedie’s main opposition party PDCI, have been arrested.
After several tense days, Abidjan, the former French colony’s economic capital, has mostly returned to its usual bustle though brief clashes did break out in one district earlier on Monday.
Call for talks
United Nations human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet called Monday for dialogue and expressed concern over arrests and blockades.
“It is in nobody’s interests to fuel the threat of increasing political instability,” she said in a statement.
“I urge political leaders from all sides to work together to calm the tensions through dialogue—not heavy-handed security responses and arrests.”
Diplomats and government sources say talks are taking place between the two sides to ease tensions in francophone West Africa’s largest economy.
The bitter rivalry between Ouattara and Bedie, has marked Ivorian politics for decades along with the country’s ethnic and regional loyalties.
In power since 2010, Ouattara had said that at the end of his second term he would make way for the next generation, raising hopes for an end to the long-running feud between the country’s ageing leaders.
Supporters praised him for bringing economic growth and stability to the world’s top cocoa producer after years of unrest.
But the sudden death of his chosen successor in July prompted him to change his mind.
His bid angered opposition chiefs, stoking tensions over a possible post-election crisis similar to one in 2010-11 when then-president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by Ouattara.
The country was already divided into two after a 2002 civil war—the north held by rebels and the south by Gbagbo’s forces.
Ouattara won a long-delayed 2010 election, but Gbagbo refused to step down despite international recognition of Ouattara.
French troops eventually intervened as Abidjan became a battleground and Ouattara loyalists were able to oust Gbagbo from his bunker.