YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa has called on the Ivory Coast’s rulers to pardon supporters of a leading opposition leader who were arrested during a protest.

The Archbishop of Abidjan made his comments on Jan. 1, the World Day of Peace.

On Dec. 23, the administration of President Alassane Ouattara issued an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro, the former prime minister hoping to be elected president in elections due to take place this October.

Soro was on a plane home after spending six months abroad when he received the news; the flight was then diverted to Ghana.

His supporters hit the streets to protest, leading to several arrests, including some of Soro’s top associates.

Ivory Coast erupted into civil war in 2002 and remained divided into a rebel-controlled north and loyalist south until a 2007 peace deal.

Soro and his allies then helped President Alassane Ouattara come to power when then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down during the violent 2010-2011 election that left more than 3,000 people dead.

However, Soro has distanced himself from Ouattara’s party ahead of the 2020 presidential election, becoming the first candidate to publicly declare his intentions to run under the banner of his party, Générations et Peuples Solidaires, or GPS.

Public Prosecutor Adou Richard announced on state television Monday night that Soro was accused of “presumption of an attack on state security,” without giving details. Soro also is suspected of embezzling public funds and money laundering, Richard said.

Soro denies the accusations, claiming the government is trying to stop him from participating in the upcoming election.

“This whole cabal aims to distance me from the presidential race of which I am the favorite,” Soro said in an interview. He criticized what he called “the innumerable human rights abuses, in favor of an incredible hardening of the regime,” which seeks to “muzzle the opposition.”

Kutwa, speaking at Mass in which Ouattara was in attendance, called on the country’s leadership to pardon Soro’s supporters.

“Sons and daughters of Ivory Coast, let us listen to the Lord say to each of us: my sons, do not allow yourself to be consumed by the desire for revenge; do not respond to evil with evil, because you will become like your attackers; do not allow yourself to be destabilized by resentment, it would give to the other power over you – the power to destroy you; do not enter the game of the Evil One, or you will leave your soul there,” the cardinal said.

Kutwa was repeating the concerns expressed by the country’s bishops’ conference after its June plenary assembly.

“Spare us another war,” the bishops said in light of the upcoming elections.

“We hope that the ongoing debates within the framework of a social crisis with political undertones continue in a climate of serenity, and with the need to search for authentic peace,” the bishops’ statement said.

They said the population was living in “generalized fear…fear linked to recurrent inter-communal conflicts, to insecurity, land, the illicit occupation of classified forests, and the question of Ivorian identity.”

Alioune Tiné, the former director of Amnesty International for West Africa, warned that the 2020 election poses a danger for the country.

“Ivorian history is a perpetual restart. And I have the impression that no one learns from it, especially Alassane Ouattara who suffered, who was exiled. We thought that after what happened with Gbagbo, he would be the man of rallying, reconciliation and unity,” he told Franceinfo Afrique.

While admitting that Ouattara had done much to build the nation, Tiné noted that little had been done to build a democratic culture in the country.

“The basic question revolves around power and how to keep it. Once you are in power in the Ivory Coast, you lose your mind. It’s incredible,” Tiné said.

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