(Photo: REUTERS / Thierry Gouegnon)
A polling agent counts ballots at a polling station in Williamsville, Abidjan, October 31, 2010.
Ivory Coast's President Laurent Gbagbo will face a vote run-off this month against his rival, Alassane Ouattara, according to first-round results released on Thursday that gave Gbagbo a narrow lead.
Gbagbo won 38.3 percent of the 4.4 million votes cast in Sunday's presidential election, compared with 32 percent for Ouattara, a former prime minister and senior IMF official, the West African country's election commission said.
The long-delayed poll in the world's top cocoa grower is meant to reunite the once prosperous nation after a 2002-3 war split it in two and left the north in the hands of rebels.
But many Ivorians also feared that a close race in the run-off -- scheduled for November 28 -- could be disputed, leading to violent street protests in a country with a history of trouble at election time.
The main city of Abidjan was calm early on Thursday with traffic resuming its normal flow and businesses that had shut down as a precaution reopening. Ivorians gathered around newspaper stands to read the headlines.
"I think we need to keep a close eye on the second round. If it is not well monitored, that could cause people to revolt," said Kone Ismael, a student in Gagnoa.
Cocoa exporters who had temporarily stopped operations this week also restarted on Thursday, albeit in slow trade. Cocoa futures edged up $12 to $1,839 per tonne by 1209 GMT.
In the first official complaint, third-placed Henri Konan Bedie called late on Wednesday for a recount and demanded the election commission stop announcing results before the official result was given. Bedie ended up with 25.2 percent of the vote.
The United Nations' top representative to Ivory Coast, Y.J. Choi, said he was not worried by the complaint.
"We would be worried if it (Bedie's party) resorts to undemocratic methods. But so far we are reassured that they are not going down that path," he told reporters.
Ivory Coast's constitutional court has until November 10 to validate the first round results.
A concerted challenge by Bedie will be tough given that the U.N. mission and election observers have largely praised the poll. On Wednesday, several hundred of Bedie's supporters had gathered at his PDCI party headquarters warning that they would not accept the results.
Cocoa dealers said the smooth election process so far was good news for the world market, around 40 percent of whose supplies come from Ivory Coast, as it would help guarantee supplies. Several exporters who had suspended work earlier this week said they had now resumed operations.
"We have restarted work but ... it is going to take two to three days to be pushing out big quantities. The hold-up due to the results has definitely cost us time," said one cocoa salesman at an export house in Abidjan.
As predicted, Ouattara fared better in the north, where he is from and where soldiers who felt neglected by successive southern-dominated governments rose up against Gbagbo in 2002.
Bedie scored well in central regions where there are many of his fellow Baoule voters. Gbagbo's support base was focused on the south and the west of the country.
International observers praised Ivory Coast's poll on Sunday, but concerns had risen over the lack of results and the mounting tensions in the days that followed.
They also raised concerns about being shut out of the process of tabulating results on some occasions.
"Our observers were refused entry several times," Maria Espinosa, deputy chief of an EU observers mission. "International observers should be there for the whole process."
If the second round delivers a clear winner and any disputes can be resolved, it may entice investors back to what was once a rare economic success story in an unstable region. Ivory Coast's $2.3 billion Eurobond traded just below 10 percent early on Thursday.
All candidates have come under concerted pressure by the United Nations -- which deployed 9,500 peacekeeping soldiers and police to secure the vote -- and foreign powers to accept the results.
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