Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, in his first public comments since being toppled in 2011, said that Saturday’s presidential election spelt “disaster” for the troubled country and called for dialogue.
In an interview broadcast Thursday on the French channel TV5 Monde, Gbagbo said: “What awaits us is disaster. This is why I am speaking out. People should know that I am against heading for disaster with our hands tied. We have to talk.”
Gbagbo, 75, made the interview in Belgium, where he is awaiting the outcome of proceedings against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) arising from a civil war sparked by his refusal to accept electoral defeat in 2010.
Gbagbo was forced out by forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara, who at the age of 78 is controversially seeking a third term in office.
Anger at his decision to run again has triggered lethal clashes and revived ethnic friction, prompting many Ivorians to fear a return to the violence of 2010-11, when the country split along north-south lines and around 3,000 people lost their lives.
Gbagbo retains a powerful following in Ivory Coast but has been barred by the country’s paramount court, the Constitutional Council, from contesting the elections on legal grounds.
He was handed a 20-year jail term in absentia by an Ivorian court last November over the looting of the Central Bank of West African States during the 2010-11 crisis.
Tensions in the runup to the vote focus in particular on Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term after being elected in 2010 and again in 2015. The constitution allows only two presidential terms.
Earlier this year, he vowed to hand on the baton to a new generation, but his plans were torpedoed in July when his anointed successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died suddenly of a heart attack.
Ouattara reversed course, claiming that a 2016 revision to the constitution reset the presidential term counter to zero.
The opposition want Ouattara to withdraw his candidacy and are demanding an overhaul of the national electoral board and Constitutional Council, which it says are stacked with his loyalists.
Gbagbo said “I understand (the anger) and I share it.”
But, he said, dialogue was essential.
“Talk! Negotiate! Speak to one another!” he exclaimed.
“There is still time to do it, to talk. I would like to tell Ivorians that in this fight over the third term, I, Laurent Gbagbo, former head of state, former prisoner of the ICC, am resolutely on the side of the opposition.
“I say, in the light of my experience, that there has to be negotiations!”