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Ivory Coast president opens campaign in rebel zones

By on October 17, 2010

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo officially opened his election campaign on Friday in the rebel-held west, pledging to industrialise the West African nation by putting a cocoa factory in every growing region.

Campaigns for elections set for October 31 were officially launched on Friday, although the three main candidates have been unofficially campaigning since the long delayed vote was first supposed to happen in 2005.

Gbagbo’s choice of the far western town of Man, in a hilly, forested area near the Liberian border, was symbolic. It was here that some of the worst fighting took place during a 2002-3 war that split the country in two.

“It was here that we had the most suffering,” Gbagbo told thousands of cheering, clapping supporters in the stadium. “It is those who were hurt by the war who will create peace.”

The polls are meant to end years of crisis that have blighted West Africa’s former economic hub, and permit reforms to the ailing cocoa sector that feeds a third of world demand.

Gbagbo repeated a pledge to boost cocoa production to 2 million tonnes a year from its current 1.2 million tonnes.

“We shall build a factory in every region that produces cocoa,” he said, elaborating on a promise to boost grinding capacity beyond the roughly 500,000 tonnes the country now has.

The vote is likely to be a close contest between Gbagbo and opposition challengers Henri Konan Bedie and Alassane Ouattara. Many Ivorians fear such a close election would inevitably reignite violence if the result is disputed.

“There will be provocations,” Gbagbo told the crowd in Man, once a popular tourist spot but now flaking and muddy. “But do not stoop to the provocations of those who’ve already lost.”

Reuters.

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