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Ivorian president does not rule out running for third term in 2020

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara on Saturday did not rule out competing in next year’s presidential election, amid speculation that he plans to stand for a third term - a move his opponents say would violate the constitution.

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Ivory Coast’s political landscape has been shaken by ex-president Henri Konan Bedie’s decision last October to end a 10-year coalition with Ouattara and by the possible return of another former leader, Laurent Gbagbo, in the wake of his recent acquittal in The Hague.

Ouattara’s camp has said he may reconsider a decision not to run in the 2020 presidential poll if long-time rivals Gbagbo and Bedie were to stand.

“I want to make sure the country has unshakeable peace,” Ouattara told round 40,000 people at Saturday’s congress of the RHDP (Rassemblement des Houphouëtistes pour la Démocratie et la Paix) at the Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium in Abidjan.

It was its first congress since the acrimonious split with Bedie’s party that ended an alliance meant to last for generations and help heal the political rifts that led to civil war in 2002.

“I want to organize RHDP in the first quarter of this year so that next year we can pick our candidate for the presidential election,” Ouattara said in his speech.

Responding to chants from the crowd of “We want ADO”, referring to Ouattara, the president said: “I will give you my response next year.”

In June, Ouattara said a new constitution approved in 2016 canceled out the previous constitution’s term limits and gives him the right to stand again, although opponents disagree.

Bedie’s PDCI is the most popular party in Ivory Coast, according to the latest opinion polls, followed by Gbagbo’s FPI and Ouattara’s party in third.

At stake in next year’s vote is the stability of francophone West Africa’s largest economy and the world’s biggest cocoa producer, which is still recovering from a short second civil war that led to Ouattara’s 2010 victory over incumbent Gbagbo being confirmed.

Earlier in January, the International Criminal Court acquitted Gbagbo of war crimes allegedly committed in 2010-11. This paves the way for his possible return to political life in Ivory Coast, although he remains in detention in The Hague pending a review by the appeals panel.

Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Hugh Lawson