Embassies in Ivory Coast advised their nationals to prepare for possible unrest as tension grows ahead of the Oct. 30 end to President Laurent Gbagbo’s mandate.
Presidential polls originally due on Sunday, when Gbagbo’s five-year term comes to an end, have been called off amid political arguments. Opposition youth leaders have threatened to call supporters onto the streets to demand that he step down.
“We are urging people to have stocks of water and food in their houses in case there is a crisis so at least they can live at home for a few days,” said a diplomat at the German embassy in the main city, Abidjan.
The world’s top cocoa grower has been split between a rebel north and a government-run south since a civil war triggered by a failed coup attempt against Gbagbo in 2002. A series of peace deals to reunite the nation have since failed.
The Spanish and German embassies, mindful of rioting last year that led to the evacuation of more than 8,000 foreigners, said they had planes on stand-by to come to Abidjan in case their citizens again had to leave.
Spanish ambassador Francisco Tejada added that many foreigners had already left.
Other diplomatic missions in the former French colony said they had advised local wardens, who gather fellow nationals in an emergency, to test their radio equipment before the weekend.
Things coming to a head
Elections supposed to draw a line under the conflict were set for Oct. 30, but rebels withdrew their support and refused to disarm, saying they feared Gbagbo would rig the polls.
The African Union and United Nations have asked Gbagbo to stay for 12 more months to work through the obstacles in the peace process, with a new government and a prime minister with more powers to ensure elections take place next year.
But the rebels and opposition say that after Sunday, Gbagbo will cease to be president.
Opposition youth leaders have announced a meeting in a city centre stadium on Saturday and pro-government “Young Patriots” say they will hold a concert, ostensibly to celebrate the country’s qualification for the soccer World Cup, on Sunday.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged all parties to refrain from “disruptive political gatherings that may create tensions," his office said in a statement on Thursday.
Many foreigners were caught unprepared when thousands of youths descended into Abidjan’s streets in days of anti-French riots last November, and had to wait until security teams arrived or French helicopters plucked them from rooftops.
The Young Patriots went on the rampage after France destroyed Ivory Coast’s small air force following a government bombing raid on the north that killed nine French soldiers.