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Ivory Coast Referendum Vote Extended

July 24, 2000|From Times Wire Services

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — This country's army rulers, seeking to win maximum support for a constitution that would underpin their transition to civilian rule, gave people extra time to vote on it and declared today a public holiday for the purpose.

The referendum, which will play a major role in deciding who could be the next president, comes at a critical juncture for Ivory Coast. Once among Africa's most stable nations, the country faces increasing military unrest and a battered economy.

The government declared a state of emergency ahead of the referendum, but Abidjan, the commercial capital, was quiet Sunday.

While turnout estimates were not available, long lines, some with well over 200 people, snaked through some Abidjan neighborhoods.

Some of the country's 4.8 million registered voters were kept waiting for their voting cards, and there were also scattered accusations of voting fraud. Police arrested four supporters of the country's main opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, for allegedly buying "no" votes, said Menan Basil Adou, a senior municipal official in Abidjan's crowded Adjame neighborhood.

The junta acknowledged the problems in a statement broadcast on state-run radio and said voting would continue today from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. at the stations where voters were unable to cast ballots Sunday. Elsewhere, voting continued past the 6 p.m. deadline.

For many voters in Abidjan, the referendum appeared to be a vote on Ivory Coast's willingness to remain a haven for immigrants, many of them from impoverished states to the north.

"We are victims of that hospitality now," said Dominique Agnero, 41, a civil servant. "The foreigners should get in an airplane and call us by phone. We don't want to see them."

Ivory Coast has about 19 million residents, about 40% of them immigrants who came here when the country was the region's economic powerhouse. But in recent years, as prices for the country's main exports, cocoa and coffee, have plummeted, the economy has stumbled, and hospitality has turned to a simmering xenophobia.

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