Ivory Coast to free opposition leader's allies in pre-vote peace gesture


Seeking to calm tensions in Ivory Coast ahead of a presidential election, the authorities plan to release associates of opposition leader Guillaume Soro who have been held in detention for months, a government spokesman said on Wednesday.

President Alassane Ouattara's decision to run for a third term, following the sudden death of his handpicked successor in July, has led to recurrent violent protests. The opposition has called for further unrest in the run-up to the Oct. 31 poll.

The detainees close to Soro, who include five lawmakers, have been held without trial since they were arrested in December over an alleged coup plot that has led to Soro's exile in Paris.

Government spokesman Sidi Tiemoko Toure said some of the detainees would be released, although they may still face prosecution.

"This gesture can be appreciated as an additional gesture of appeasement by the head of state," Toure told Reuters. He did not say how many would be freed or when.

A Justice Ministry source said they could be released in the near future.

Soro has dubbed Ouattara's bid for a third term a "civilian coup d'etat" and urged the opposition to unite to stop him, while Ouattara's main challenger, Henri Konan Bedie, has called for civil disobedience.

They accuse Ouattara, who has been in power for a decade, of violating the constitution by seeking another term. The 78-year-old president says a constitutional change means his two-term limit has been reset.

Soro, who was prime minister from 2007-2012 and head of Parliament until last year, has been barred from the running.

Opposition parties have stopped short of saying they will boycott the poll, which the ruling party says will take place regardless of whether they participate.

(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Additional reporting by Loucouamen Coulibaly; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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