ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and a main opposition leader promised on Wednesday to press ahead with talks to resolve a bitter standoff over the Oct. 31 election that has sparked clashes killing 85 people.
Ouattara met former president and opposition candidate Henri Konan Bedie in the commercial capital Abidjan in a bid to calm tensions over the vote, which handed Ouattara a third term that his opponents say is illegal.
In comments to journalists, both said the meeting had been an important first step towards a peaceful resolution of the crisis, but did not indicate that either side had made or was prepared to make any concessions.
“We met and decided to make peace in Ivory Coast,” Ouattara said, describing the encounter as an ice-breaker.
Bedie said: “In the days and weeks ahead, we will call each other and meet so that the country becomes what it was before.”
Earlier the government updated the death toll from recent fighting between rival political supporters to 85 – including 34 killed before the vote, 20 on election day and 31 since then.
While the violence has not been as widespread as some feared, many Ivorians worry about a repeat of the civil war that followed the 2010 election. About 3,000 people died in the war, which was fought largely along ethnic lines.
Bedie’s party and political allies have said that progress to end the current dispute will only be possible if the authorities meet certain demands, including dropping criminal charges against other opposition leaders for forming a rival government.
The disagreement stems from Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term, which opposition groups say violates a constitutional two-term limit. The president maintains the approval of a new constitution in 2016 allowed him to restart his mandate.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa and Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)