Fugitive Ivory Coast opposition chief arrested

Patrick FORT
·3 min read
Pascal Affi N'Guessan was one of the leaders calling for civil disobedience over the election

Fugitive Ivory Coast opposition chief arrested

Pascal Affi N'Guessan was one of the leaders calling for civil disobedience over the election

Fugitive Ivory Coast opposition leader Pascal Affi N'Guessan has been arrested north of Abidjan, officials and his party said Saturday, as prosecutors investigate President Alassane Ouattara's rivals for insurrection for rejecting his reelection.

Ouattara won the October 31 ballot by a landslide, but Ivory Coast is caught in a political standoff since opposition leaders boycotted the vote and vowed to set up a rival government after accusing him of breaking with two-term presidential limits.

At least 40 people have been killed in clashes over Ouattara's third term since August, reviving fears that francophone West Africa's top economy could slide into the kind of post-election violence seen a decade ago when fighting killed 3,000.

"Affi N'Guessan was arrested during the night," in the central eastern town of Bongouanou, said Eddie Ane, a member of his Ivorian Popular Front party.

Former prime minister N'Guessan, 67, was the opposition spokesman and a candidate himself in the presidential election.

Two government sources confirmed his arrest.

"Affi N'Guessan has been detained near the border with Ghana. He was on the run," one government source said.

Security forces have blockaded the homes of several opposition chiefs in Abidjan and prosecutors have accused three of them of insurrection and terrorism for plotting against the state.

Maurice Kakou Guikahue, the deputy leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, had already been arrested.

N'Guessan and opposition chief Henri Konan Bedie had called for civil disobedience during the election. After rejecting the result, they said they would set up a transitional government as Ouattara's mandate was over.

- Calm returns -

After days of tension, Abidjan and other Ivory Coast cities have returned to their usual levels of activity, with no signs of opposition protests.

Diplomatic and government sources say talks are ongoing to resolve the standoff, though little progress has been made so far. 

The bitter rivalry between Ouattara and Bedie has marked Ivorian politics for decades along with the country's ethnic and regional loyalties.

On Saturday, Bedie's villa in Abidjan's Cocody district was still surrounded by a large police contingent as ethnic Baoule chiefs planned to make a symbolic visit to Bedie, one of the community's leaders.

That meeting did not take place. But Nanan Kassi Anvo, an influential king of the Baoule community, called on Ouattara to lift the blockade on Bedie and enter real dialogue with his opponents. 

In power since 2010, Ouattara had said that at the end of his second term that he planned to make way for a new generation, bringing 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 the former IMF economist to change his mind. He says a 2016 reform allowed him to reset the presidential term limits and run for a third time.

His bid angered opposition chiefs, stoking tensions over a possible post-election crisis like in 2010-2011 when then president Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by Ouattara.

The country was already divided in 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 for his rival's victory.

French troops eventually intervened as Abidjan became a battleground and Ouattara loyalists were able to oust Gbagbo from his bunker.