At least two people were killed in election-related violence in Cote d’Ivoire, witnesses said Sunday, two weeks before presidential polls are due to be held in the West African nation.
The clashes broke out Friday in and around the city of Bongouanou, a stronghold of opposition candidate Pascal Affi N’Guessan 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of the economic hub Abidjan, the witnesses said.
A trader from the Agni ethnic group considered pro-opposition was shot and hacked to death, a family member told AFP.
At least one person from a group considered pro-government was also killed in the area, according to several witnesses and a hospital source.
An AFP journalist reported that in Bongouanou itself many shops and restaurants were looted and set on fire, and several cars were torched.
Affi N’Guessan, a former prime minister, told AFP on Saturday that his house in Bongouanou was burned down.
About 15 people were killed in inter-communal violence in August and September in several cities across the country after President Alassane Ouattara announced his intention to run for a third term.
Many observers fear a crisis may be sparked comparable to post-election violence in 2010-11 when 3,000 people died and Ivory Coast was plunged into chaos.
Friday’s clashes erupted when young backers of Affi N’Guessan set up roadblocks on two major arteries of Bongouanou in response to an opposition call not to take part in electoral events and campaigning in a step towards a potential boycott.
Several high-profile figures, including Affi N’Guessan, have also called for “civil disobedience” in recent weeks.
Ouattara officially launched his campaign on Friday, addressing thousands in a rally in the country’s second-biggest city, Bouake.
Affi N’Guessan alleged on Saturday that the assailants were “transported from Abidjan” to target him and other opposition figures.
The ethnic Agnis and the Dioulas, from the north of Ivory Coast, blamed each other for the violence, which occurred despite a sizeable deployment of police and paramilitary police.
Dozens of would-be candidates were barred from running in the election, including former president Laurent Gbagbo and ex-rebel chief Guillaume Soro, both of whom played key roles in the crisis that engulfed the country after disputed elections in 2010.
After his re-election in 2015, Ouattara announced in March that he would not seek a third term.
But he changed his mind after his preferred successor, prime minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, died of a sudden heart attack in July.