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Ivory Coast vote results blocked

Ivory Coast's election commission has violated a midnight deadline to release results from a crucial presidential election, as the ruling party continued to block the issuance of the final tally and the head of the electoral body went on state TV to snuff out rumours that the opposition had won.

Election commission chief Youssouf Bakayoko was seen rushing out of the commission's office less than an hour before the constitutionally mandated deadline.

He appeared on state TV shortly afterwards to say that no official results had yet been proclaimed, a statement that appeared aimed at quenching rumours that opposition leader Alassane Ouattara had won after a Senegalese newspaper released what they said were preliminary results and a French website and TV station followed suit.

"Be patient," Mr Bakayoko said. "We're deliberating ... When we are ready, we will return to the air to communicate all the results to the entire population."

Earlier on Wednesday, diplomats who were allowed to enter the commission's office as well as members of the commission said that the feuding parties had agreed on results from 13 of the 19 regions of the country, representing a majority of the votes cast.

But commissioners loyal to the ruling party were preventing the publication of partial results and were contesting four key regions, all strongholds of Mr Ouattara, said one commissioner and two foreign diplomats.

Late on Tuesday in a bizarre showdown on national television, officials backing the ruling party physically prevented the commission's spokesman from announcing a large share of results as he sat in front of a microphone. The ruling party loyalists stood in front of the TV cameras as the spokesman attempted to speak, shouting over him. They then they yanked the results from his hand and tore them up as the cameras rolled.

This election is the first in 10 years following a civil war that destroyed the economy of the world's top cocoa producer and sent foreign investors and the nation's large expatriate community packing. The country was divided into two, with President Laurent Gbagbo ruling the government-controlled south while the north, where Mr Ouattara comes from, remained in rebel hands.

Mr Gbagbo's government delayed the election multiple times including in February when he dissolved the government weeks before the proposed poll date. He led the first round of voting in October with 38% to Mr Ouattara's 32%. Mr Ouattara has since won the endorsement of the third-place contestant who received 25%.

Pascal Affi N'Guessan, Gbagbo's campaign chief, held a press conference Wednesday to say they were asking for four regions to be invalidated, claiming their voters had been intimidated including in precincts where mobs showed up wielding machetes. All four of the regions are pro-Ouattara, and in three of the four the longtime opposition leader netted over 85% of the votes in the first round.

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