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4 killed in attack on Ivory Coast candidate office

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Armed men attacked a presidential candidate's office in Ivory Coast overnight, provoking fear and uncertainty on Thursday, the day after the electoral commission missed a deadline to issue results from a tight presidential runoff.

Unidentified men armed with automatic weapons attacked an office of presidential challenger Alassane Ouattara overnight despite a curfew, killing four people and wounding 14 others in the Abidjan district of Yopougon, said local party security chief Coulibaly Diomande.

Ouattara's party accuses incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo — whose mandate expired five years ago — of trying to steal the long-awaited ballot. Gbagbo loyalists, apparently fearing they don't have enough votes for victory, have prevented the commission from announcing results, saying tallies from at least four of the country's 19 regions should be canceled.

Millions hoped the vote would restore stability to the world's top cocoa producer. International observers have declared the vote free and fair.

Ivory Coast's electoral code stipulates the commission has 3 days to issue provisional results, and the constitutional council then has seven days to consider appeals before making those results official. The Ivorian constitution states that in the case of extraordinary circumstances the council — whose president Paul Yao N'Dreo is a member of Gbagbo's ruling party — has 24 hours to decide if the electoral process should be stopped.

"Authority now passes to the constitutional council," said Alain Mosso, 48, a law professor at the University of Bouake. "The council decides which results to announce and which results to throw out," he said.

On Thursday morning, traffic was unusually scarce in the normally bustling lagoon-side city of Abidjan as nervous residents were hesitant to leave home. The presence of security forces on the streets has steadily increased since Sunday's election, and pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on their beds and small tanks took up positions on the main arteries Wednesday night.

The West African nation has been under nationwide curfew since last Saturday night — a measure that President Laurent Gbagbo extended by another five days on Wednesday.

The vote was the first in 10 years following a brief civil war that split the country in two, leaving the northern half in the hands of rebels sympathetic to Ouattara who have yet to disarm.

The country has been struggling to hold a vote since a 2007 peace deal broke years of political stalemate, leading to the dismantlement of a U.N.-patrolled buffer zone that had marked the divide between the rebel-held north and the loyalist south.

Late Wednesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed "deep concern" over delays in announcing the outcome.

"The delay in announcing the results has increased the fear and uncertainty among the Ivorian people," Pillay said in a statement. "Radical political statements have created an environment that risks stimulating violence across the country, and in some areas already appear to be the main cause of inter-communal clashes."

Pillay warned that the country's leaders "may be held accountable for any violence committed in their name" and said that given the tense situation, it was imperative that the two candidates and their supporters "refrain from statements that incite violence, and from any course of action designed to deprive the people of (Ivory Coast) of their right to democracy."

Gbagbo, whose five-year mandate officially expired in 2005, has stayed in office claiming elections were impossible because of the 2002-2003 war. Disputes over nationality and who would be allowed on voter rolls — more than one-third of the population are economic migrants from neighboring countries — have fueled the delays.

Gbagbo led the first round of voting in October with 38 percent to Ouattara's 32 percent. Ouattara has since won the endorsement of the third-place contestant who received 25 percent.

Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report from Geneva.