Gbagbo “free to return” to Côte d’Ivoire, declares President Ouattara | Ivory Coast News

The ex-president and his youth leader can return home whenever they want, Ouattara said after the ICC confirmed their acquittal.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara declared that his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo and his young leader Charles Blé Goude are “free to return to Côte d’Ivoire whenever they want” after having been definitively acquitted of crimes against humanity.

Ouattara’s remarks on Wednesday came a week after the International Criminal Court (ICC) upheld Gbagbo’s decision acquittal, with appeals judges confirming he was finally in the clear about a wave of post-election violence in 2010-11.

“Arrangements will be made so that Laurent Gbagbo can benefit, in accordance with the laws in force, from the benefits and allowances available to former presidents,” Ouattara said at the start of a cabinet meeting in Abidjan.

Gbagbo has been living in Brussels under ICC orders since his release from detention in 2019. Last week’s decision finally frees him from four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, persecution and rape. during the conflict.

The 75-year-old has retained strong support at home despite years behind bars at The Hague, and has positioned himself for a potential return since last year.

Presenting himself as a conciliatory figure, he warned of the risk of “catastrophe” in the face of rising tensions as the country headed for presidential elections last year.

Scores have died in unrest after Ouattara announced his candidacy for a third term, a plan that critics said flouted the constitutional limits of the presidential term. Ouattara maintained that the two-term limit for presidents did not apply to him due to a constitutional referendum voted in 2016.

In the aftermath of a vote boycotted almost universally by the opposition, the re-elected Ouattara offered an olive branch to his former rival. He said Gbagbo had a role to play in the reconciliation and provided him with two passports, one of them a diplomatic pass.

As tensions eased, Gbagbo’s FPI party broke a ten-year boycott and took part in the parliamentary elections this month.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the civil war that followed the 2010 presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire, when Gbagbo challenged the results which declared Ouattara the winner of the vote.

Gbagbo was returned to the ICC after being forced out of power in April 2011, becoming the first head of state to be tried in court in The Hague.

Last week’s ruling ended the 10-year legal saga over the unrest.

Michele Eken, Amnesty International West Africa researcher, said after the acquittal that the victims “will be disappointed again today”.

Eken said the acquittal means that “the court held no one responsible for the atrocity crimes committed during this period,” but Gbagbo’s supporters said he would heal the country’s wounds.

Technically, Gbagbo could be jailed on his return, having been sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for “looting” of the local branch of the Central Bank of West African States during the conflict. Analysts believe this scenario looks unlikely.

For his part, Blé Goude said last week that he would ask the government if it could return, following a conviction in absentia in Côte d’Ivoire.

“I am Ivorian, I will return home but only when the government … gives me the authorization,” Ble Goude told reporters after his final acquittal.

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