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Will Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo, acquitted at ICC, return home?

January 31, 2019
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FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2019, file photo, supporters of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo celebrate outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, after judges ruled that Gbagbo and a former government minister should be released immediately following their acquittal on charges of involvement in deadly post-election violence in 2010. The acquittal at the International Criminal Court is causing some to celebrate his pending release but others fear a repeat of the deadly 2010-2011 post-election violence that led him to The Hague. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — The acquittal at the International Criminal Court of Ivory Coast’s former President Laurent Gbagbo on crimes against humanity is making waves in the West African nation where some celebrate his pending release but others fear a repeat of the deadly 2010-2011 post-election violence that led him to The Hague.

“For the moment, we are savoring the ICC’s decision to acquit President Gbagbo. We are waiting for his return for a true reconciliation in Ivory Coast. It was the missing link,” said Assoa Adou, secretary general of the Ivorian Popular Front, the party founded by Gbagbo.

Gbagbo and former youth minister Charles Ble Goude were ordered released earlier this month after being acquitted of involvement in violence that left more than 3,000 people dead following Ivory Coast’s disputed 2010 presidential election.

Prosecutors said they plan to appeal the acquittals and that the men should only be freed under strict conditions designed to ensure they return to court for hearings. A hearing on Friday will discuss the appeal against their release.

Since the ICC handed down its decision, Gbagbo supporters have hailed him as “the messiah” and some mention a possible presidential run in 2020.

But observers say Ivory Coast has not managed to find true peace, and many of the political players from 2010 remain active. The country has been relatively stable since 2017, which saw mutinies by soldiers over pay. The economy is expected to be one of Africa’s fastest-growing this year.

Despite supporters’ wishes for him to return, Gbagbo may be thwarted by an international arrest warrant issued against him by Ivory Coast’s government after a conviction in absentia last year for misappropriating funds from the West African Central Bank. He faces a possible 20-year prison sentence and likely would have to negotiate with the government before any attempt at returning home.

In August, President Alassane Ouattara, who defeated Gbagbo in the disputed vote in 2010, granted a general amnesty to 800 people, including Gbagbo’s wife, Simone, in a gesture of reconciliation. The amnesty did not specify whether it applied to the former president.

“When the time comes if (Laurent Gbagbo) returns to Ivory Coast, justice will advise,” Justice Minister Sansan Kambile said this month.

Political analyst Honore Kablan said Gbagbo likely will press to return home.

“Laurent Gbagbo is a political beast. It is not this pursuit of national justice that will make him back down,” Kablan said. “On the contrary, he will negotiate his return to the country with the current power and once entering Ivory Coast, he will animate the political debate once again.”

Gbagbo and Ouattara once were allies but had a falling-out after a 1999 coup that eventually deposed leader Henri Konan Bedie. Later when he was president, Gbagbo accused Ouattara of leading a rebellion that divided the country between 2002 and 2011.

Ouattara’s supporters and party are encouraging him to stand for a third mandate. He has indicated that he will decide early next year.

Victims of the post-election violence have opposed Gbagbo’s return to Ivory Coast. Many have demonstrated against his release.

“If the ICC releases Gbagbo, let it know that it will be responsible for the events that will follow,” said Amidou Kante, the relative of one victim. “We are not getting justice. Today we cannot accept Gbagbo’s return, which could cause new troubles.”

As for Ble Goude, he has transformed his movement, the Coordination of Young Patriots, into a political party. His party has said he will be a presidential candidate, while he has said he first wants to be free from The Hague before making a decision on a 2020 run.

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