The congress of the main opposition of the Ivory Coast was suspended at the last minute by a court order, as delegates prepared to elect a new leader on Saturday.
An order from a judge at the Abidjan court, dated Friday and seen by AFP, halted the gathering where members of the Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast (PDCI) were due to choose a new party leader ahead of 2025 elections.
The two main candidates are the Ivorian-French banker Tidjane Thiam and Jean-Marc Yace, 62, the mayor of a commune in the economic hub Abidjan.
But on Friday the judge ordered the “suspension and postponement of the PDCI congress”, saying that two complaints by activists were being upheld over alleged irregularities on the list of congress participants.
The ruling also cited the risk of “disturbing public order”.
Party spokesman Soumaila Bredoumy said Saturday that “the PDCI expresses its indignation and condemns in the strongest terms these practices from another era, which undermine democracy and freedoms”.
He called on supporters “not to give in to provocation”.
A large police cordon was deployed on Saturday morning in front of the party headquarters in Abidjan, with several dozen delegates from across the country being barred from entering.
“We left yesterday at 4 pm (1600 GMT) and arrived at 2 am this morning, when we learned about this,” said one delegate who came from Tabou in the southeast, around 400 kilometres (250 miles) away.
“The police are blocking all the entrances,” he said, declining to give his name.
Ramata Gnamien, another frustrated party member who arrived for the vote, said “we came here to keep our party alive. We no longer have the right to choose our own president? It’s incomprehensible”.
In front of the party headquarters, the two candidates took it in turns in the morning to call on activists to remain calm.
In a statement, Thiam told PDCI members and sympathisers to “wait calmly for instructions from the party leadership” and to “refrain from any travel to the site planned for the congress”.
With the support of around 50 of the 63 deputies the party has in the national assembly, Thiam — a former boss of banking giant Credit Suisse — is the favourite to become the new PDCI leader.
The PDCI, once Ivory Coast’s sole legal party, had hoped to rejuvenate its image at the congress with the election of a new leader, four months after the death of its former leader Henri Konan Bedie at the age of 89.
A 1999 coup toppled president Bedie in 1999, and the PDCI has never regained power since.