French President Emmanuel Macron has defended a decision by Ivory Coast’s veteran president to run in an election in October, but urged him to hold out an olive branch to opponents including former leader Laurent Gbagbo to ease tensions. President Alassane Ouattara, 78, won a third term in the 31 October election but opposition parties largely boycotted the vote and dismissed it as illegal, saying he had violated constitutional term limits.

Ouattara, who said the approval of a new constitution in 2016 allowed him to restart his mandate, is now locked in a standoff with opposition candidate Henri Konan Bedie following clashes that have killed 85 people.

Tensions run high in Ivory Coast following Outtara’s re-election:

Macron told pan-African daily magazine Jeune Afrique that although he initially had misgivings about Ouattara running again, the death of Ouattara’s handpicked successor in July meant that there had been little alternative.

“I really think he ran out of (a sense of) duty. In absolute terms, I would have preferred there to have been another solution, but there was none,” Macron said in comments published on Friday.

Previewing Ivory Coast elections with Michele Eken:

Macron has repeatedly said he wants a break from the past, when France often seemed to call the shots in its former colonies, and that it is time for older generations to hand over to Africa’s younger politicians.

Macron said it was vital Ouattara opened up to the opposition, including Gbagbo.

Gbagbo lost the 2010 election to Ouattara but refused to leave, leading to a brief civil war that killed over 3 000 people. Gbagbo was forced out and arrested, and the International Criminal Court acquitted him in 2019 of war crimes charges related to the conflict.

“He (Ouattara) will undoubtedly have to make gestures of openness in forming the next government as well as towards the younger generations of political parties,” Macron said.

Macron criticised rebel leader Guillaume Soro, who had called from exile in France for Ivorians to overthrow Ouattara, saying he  “shouldn’t be creating disorder.” He said he did not believe Soro was in France any longer but “his presence on our territory is not wanted while he acts like this.”