Ivory Coast opposition claims hired thugs disrupted election

Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 26 November 1990

OPPOSITION leaders claimed yesterday that paid thugs attacked and harassed their supporters in the Ivory Coast’s first multiparty national assembly election.

The main opposition party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), claimed the ruling Democratic Party (PDCI) of President Felix Houphouët-Boigny employed up to 750 thugs to break up opposition meetings and rallies throughout the country.

Turnout was as low as 30 per cent in the capital, Abidjan, when polling closed at 6pm. Reports from the interior confirmed the scant enthusiasm for the first popularity test for fledgling opposition parties.

No violence was reported, although rival party supporters had clashed on Saturday night. An FPI rally in Yopougon, a suburb of Abidjan, was broken up when PDCI supporters drove at the marchers in a car, the FPI claimed. One person was seriously injured. FPI activists said they saw some of the paid thugs, called Loubars, dressed in military uniform.

“The Loubars are paid 50,000 CF A francs [£102] a month to harass the opposition parties,” said Aka Niamen, the FPI organiser in Yopougon.

“They are a parallel army. And they are armed. Sometimes they wear opposition party shirts and carry out acts of vandalism to incriminate the opposition parties. During the presidential elections they stole and broke the ballot boxes.”

The election is the second multi-party contest in four weeks. On October 31 Mr Houphouët-Boigny retained the presidency for a seventh five-year term after beating the FPI leader, Laurent Gbagbo. The Supreme Court rejected an FPI appeal to declare the election void.

Similar claims of electoral fraud were made immediately polling stations opened yesterday. Voters’ lists were incomplete and the location of some polling stations was kept secret from opposition supporters to assure a solid pro-government vote, the FPI claimed.

In one case, PDCI supporters cast votes in their candidate’s house, from which non-PDCI members were barred by police on the door.



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