ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A group of Ivory Coast opposition parties accused state authorities on Friday of trying to intimidate them before next year's presidential election, denouncing a new arrest warrant for presidential candidate Guillaume Soro.
A public prosecutor has said Soro, a former rebel leader in Ivory Coast, could face life in prison for allegedly plotting a coup. Although his whereabouts are unclear, Soro is believed to be in Europe, and more than 15 people close to him have been arrested as part of an investigation.
"These actions are attempts to silence all criticism by the opposition of the government when we should be discussing how the 2020 election is being organised," politician Gnonzie Ouattara from the Coalition for Reconciliation, Democracy and Peace (CRDP), an alliance of 21 opposition parties including Soro's, told a news conference.
"Guillaume Soro is not guilty of anything," he said.
Soro has denounced the investigation as politically motivated.
The case has increased tensions ahead of the October 2020 vote, which is regarded as a test of Ivory Coast's stability after two civil wars since the turn of the century.
In its first comment on the investigation, the Ivorian government said it had taken note that an international arrest warrant had been issued against Soro.
In a statement on the case, it condemned "unacceptable steps to plunge Ivorian society back into the painful past of various socio-political crises our country has known."
President Alassane Ouattara won re-election in 2015 but has been unclear about whether he will seek a third term, deepening uncertainty about the vote in Francophone West Africa's largest economy, also the world's biggest cocoa producer.
Soro retains the loyalty of many ex-rebel commanders who hold senior positions in the army. He served for several years as speaker of the National Assembly but has since fallen out with Ouattara.
(Reporting by Ange AboaWriting by Alessandra PrenticeEditing by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman)