Just as an Ivory Coast election official prepared to read out results of the country's landmark poll, a supporter of embattled president Laurent Gbagbo seized the papers showing the vote tallies from him and ripped them up, declaring the figures invalid.
The incident was caught on camera by watching journalists who were then forced to leave the Electoral Commission's headquarters. The bemused spokesman, who initially tried to resist as Gbagbo supporter Damana Adia Pickass made a grab for them, was escorted away by the police.
"These results are false; they have not been consolidated," Adia Pickass said, telling reporters that there had been an "electoral hold-up" and that the numbers from three of 19 districts – all in the northern part of the country – were inaccurate.
"We didn't lose," Gbagbo's campaign chief Pascal Affi N'Guessan later told journalists, declaring that the opposition leader Alassane Ouattara had been the beneficiary of fraud. "We have requested... a cancellation of the results in several regions of the north, where clearly there was no vote, but on the contrary a masquerade."
But UN observers have said that, despite violence and intimidation, Sunday's election had largely been fair.
Partly as a result of Adia Pickass' intervention, no final outcome appeared to have been settled before yesterday's deadline. It had been hoped that the election, Ivory Coast's first since the 2002-03 rebellion that split the country in two, would be a key step in the process of reconciliation.
But optimism has been tempered by the contentious poll and a result that appears to have largely split the country along the same north-south lines.
Mr Gbagbo, president since 2000, survived the coup attempt that sparked the war in 2002. He has clung to power for five years since the legal expiration of his term, pushing the vote back year after year. His camp charges that no election will be fair as long as rebels sympathetic to Ouattara, who Gbagbo says was behind the effort to topple him – remain in charge of northern districts.
Ouattara's supporters say he had a clear win and the president is stalling because he knows he has lost. While Gbagbo received 38 per cent of the first round vote against 32 per cent for Ouattara, third-placed Henri Konan Bedie, who won the support of 25 per cent, declared his support for Ouattara for the next round of voting. As the wait for results dragged on last night, state television announced that an overnight curfew designed to stifle unrest and due to end today, would be extended until Sunday.
Gbagbo's camp was still trying to persuade the electoral commission to annul results from the north of the country yesterday, as the BBC reported that officials had agreed on results from 13 of the districts but are still at loggerheads on the rest. Former colonial power France put its 900 troops in the country on notice yesterday to protect its expatriate community as it urged that the results be published.
But despite fears of violence after two deaths clouded Sunday's poll, the streets of Abidjan were quiet last night.
"All we want is for them to tell us who won," Florent Gbomeme, an unemployed local resident, told Reuters.
"If the country burns, we will all burn. It is the politicians who are manipulating us."Reuse content