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Ivory Coast leader rejects talks as rivals call for boycott of votes

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BOUAKE, Ivory Coast, October 16 (Reuters) – Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara rejected calls for negotiations Friday from rivals seeking a boycott of the October 31 election, which they say he should not defend.

Ouattara’s main challengers, former President Henry Conan Bedie and former Prime Minister Pascal Affi NGuessan, accuse the 78-year-old former International Monetary Fund (IMF) economist of violating the constitution by staying for a third term.

Protests against Ouattaras candidacy have killed more than a dozen people since August.

Thousands of fans greeted Ouattara in Bouake, the capital of the rebellion that swept him to power in 2011 after a controversial election, as his motorcade rushed into town to formally launch his campaign.

The dialogue has already taken place. Let’s go to the polls. There will be no delay, Ouattara, who is widely regarded as the election favorite, told local chiefs later in the day, adding that he would not accept international mediation.

No one is coming here to negotiate anything.

These years’ elections are a test of stability for Ivory Coast, the world’s leading cocoa producer. Ouattara’s victory in the 2010 election led to a brief civil war that killed 3,000 people after incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept.

Ouattaras’s decision in August to run again after initially saying he would not have instigated friction. He rejects opposition claims that he can not run again, arguing a new constitution adopted in 2016 restores his two-term limit.

Affi and Bedie reiterated their calls for a boycott on Friday, demanding civil disobedience to block election rallies and the distribution of voting cards.

We will fight to the end because our fight is fair, Affi told supporters in Abidjan. (Additional Report by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Written by Aaron Ross; Edited by Andrew Cawthorne)

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