Sunday’s ballot was intended to restore civilian rule 10 months after a military coup. But former junta leader Gen. Robert Guei disbanded the country’s electoral commission while votes were still being counted Tuesday and declared himself the winner.
Gbagbo’s supporters — who also claimed victory — swarmed into Ivory Coast’s streets, later to be joined by members of the junta’s own security forces. Guei is reported to have fled Wednesday to nearby Benin.
His departure was greeted in the streets with jubilation. But within a few hours, Ouattara’s followers were rallying, and black smoke billowed above Abidjan neighborhoods where Ouattara’s backers had blocked off the streets with burning tires, gutted vehicles, pieces of furniture and roadside garbage.
In the western city of Gagnoa, police clashed with pro-Ouattara demonstrators, while in Ouattara’s northern stronghold of Korhogo, his supporters were burning opponents’ houses.
Gbagbo’s supporters complained their rivals only took to the streets after Guei had been forced from power.
“What’s the point of wrecking things now?” asked Yedess Djadje. “We want peace.”
In the streets, however, Gbagbo’s followers were quick to respond with violence. On a street corner in Abidjan’s posh Cocody suburb, young men with white stripes painted on their faces — some carrying nail-studded sticks or machetes — gathered on one street corner, calling themselves “real Ivorians” and threatening to kill Ouattara.
After being sworn in, Gbagbo said he had invited Rally of the Republicans officials to meet with him later tonight to find a solution to their differences.
He added, though: “We will not do another presidential election.”
That night, representatives of one group after another — civic associations, trade unions, political parties — appeared on national television to appeal for calm.
The Sunday election was problematic from the start. The Ivory Coast’s two largest parties — Ouattara’s and the former ruling Democratic Party — boycotted the vote after their candidates were barred from running by the Supreme Court. Both accused Gbagbo of going along with an electoral farce by refusing to join the boycott.
“The great majority of the people of Ivory Coast were excluded from these elections, and this government is illegitimate,” said Rally of the Republicans spokesman Amadou Coulibaly.
Today, the National Electoral Commission released results showing Gbagbo won the vote with 59.6 percent support, versus 32.7 percent for Guei. Minor candidates shared the rest of the vote.
Guei came to power in a December coup, the first military takeover in Ivory Coast. Instability since has battered the economy and frightened Ivorians and foreign investors alike.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.