A low turn out at Ivorian elections

IVORY COAST - Seen as a test of stability in the west African nation in a poll, Ivorians turned out in low numbers for Sunday's local elections, boycotted by former president Laurent Gbagbo's party.

The UN had appealed for calm after skirmishes during the election campaign, voicing hope that the vote would help put the country on the path to "genuine democracy".

Several sources said the situation was mainly calm, but turnout for the municipal and regional polls had been low.

Most voting stations closed around 17:00, but some stayed open longer after voting in the main city of Abidjan and other urban centres was delayed by the late arrival of materials or staff in the morning.

One source with the UN mission UNOCI said 16 people who had tried to intimidate voters in the Koumassi district in southern Abidjan had been arrested.

A voting station at Ferkessedougou, in the north of the country, had been wrecked, the source added.

Inza Diomande, a spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission, said turnout had been around 30%.

They were the first such polls in more than a decade in the world's top cocoa producer and are seen as a trial run for the 2015 presidential election.

Ivory Coast is still recovering from years of unrest which came to a head when Gbagbo refused to admit defeat in the 2010 presidential vote.

Around 3,000 people died in the ensuing conflict and Gbagbo is now facing trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

President Alassane Ouattara, as he cast his ballot, said he hoped Ivorians could "vote in peace", describing the elections as "important for the decentralised running of the country".

But Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), has dismissed the polls as a sham.

The party, which stayed behind Gbagbo after his arrest in April 2011, has refused to take part, just as it boycotted parliamentary polls at the end of 2011.

The FPI has called for a reform of the electoral commission and an amnesty for crimes committed during the 2010-11 election crisis. It also wants the release of its jailed leaders, beginning with Gbagbo himself.

About 5.7 million people, out of a population of 21 million, were eligible to vote in what is the last election before the presidential ballot, when Ouattara is expected to run for a second term.

The two parties in power, Ouattara's Rally of Republicans (RDR) and the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast (PDCI) of former president Henri Konan Bedie, already have an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

While they are guaranteed the lion's share of regional votes, they are competing against each other in some areas and are up against deeply entrenched independent candidates in others.

The final days of the campaign were marred by clashes in several areas including Abidjan and towns in the west, an unstable region prone to violence.

Hate speech including "calls for verbal and physical violence", had raised the "spectre of electoral violence" as in 2010, the Ivorian Movement of Human Rights warned ahead of the vote.

The head of the UN mission in the country, Bert Koenders, called Friday for a "free, transparent, calm and credible" vote.

Final results are expected in a few days.

- Sapa

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