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Ivory Coast Presidential Runoff Set for Nov. 21

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Ivory Coast's constitutional council certified results Saturday from last weekend's presidential election despite calls for a recount, setting the stage for what is expected to be a tense runoff vote on Nov. 21.

Opposition front-runner Alassane Ouattara and other challengers to President Laurent Gbagbo had urged authorities to hold a recount of ballots from the Oct. 31 poll, citing irregularities they say led to hundreds of thousands of votes being tallied inaccurately.

But council president Paul Yao N'Dre -- who is a member of Gbagbo's ruling party -- announced the certified result in a statement broadcast on national television late Saturday, making no changes to the provisional outcome released during the week. N'Dre also said the second round would be held Nov. 21, a week earlier than expected.

Ouattara's communications adviser, Massere Toure, declined to comment on the news. She said Ouattara's party will be meeting Monday to determine its strategy.

Gbagbo came in first place in last weekend's election, which was the country's first in a decade. He won just over 38 percent of the vote, compared to about 32 percent for Ouattara -- both short of the simple majority needed to avoid a second round.

Henri Konan Bedie, who was ousted in the country's first coup in 1999, came in third. Before the poll, he had pledged to support Ouattara if there is a runoff. Amid calls for a recount, though, it's unclear whether Bedie will stick to the pledge and unclear how many of his supporters would heed it even if he does. Bedie's support will be crucial for Ouattara and the second round is expected to be a close race.

The charges of irregularities further polarized an already tense runoff that could restore stability to the world's biggest cocoa producer after a decade of unrest.

The opposition coalition cited forged affidavits from polling stations, soldiers voting multiple times and party representatives being barred from the central counting station in Abidjan where national results were tabulated.

"All these irregularities led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of votes for the" Gbagbo's opponents, said opposition coalition spokesman Djedje Mady.

International observers said in their preliminary reports they had detected no fraud, and cited only minor irregularities.

The ballot was the country's first since civil war split Ivory Coast in two, leaving rebels in control of the north. The country officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal, but deep tensions remain.

Powerful militias run loose in the largely lawless west, ex-rebels are still armed in the north, and political parties are backed by hardcore youth militants ready to take to the streets if things don't go their way.

Bedie was the first to call for a re-count on Wednesday night, just before the final results were announced, but it was clear that he would not advance.

Groups of young Bedie supporters have been protesting in the streets outside his party headquarters ever since.

Also Saturday, officials said Gbagbo had recalled his ambassador from Senegal after accusing President Abdoulaye Wade of interference in Ivorian domestic politics after he hosted Ouattara on Thursday. Senegalese officials denied the accusation of interference and did not comment on the visit.

"The visit was an act of conspiracy and interference," said presidential diplomatic adviser Alicide Djedje. "We have information indicating that it was an attempt to destabilize Ivory Coast."