Ivory Coast Ex-President Gbagbo Acquitted by The Hague Court
(Bloomberg) -- The International Criminal Court acquitted Ivory Coast ex-President Laurent Gbagbo of crimes against humanity after seven years of detention in The Hague, paving the way for his return to the world’s biggest cocoa grower as it prepares for presidential elections next year.
Gbagbo, 73, was acquitted because the prosecutor failed to satisfy the burden of proof, judge Cuno Tarfusser said Tuesday. A decision about his release will be taken Wednesday, he said.
Gbagbo was arrested by troops loyal to then-opposition leader Alassane Ouattara following a five-month standoff triggered by his refusal to acknowledge defeat in a 2010 presidential vote. The post-election conflict, Ivory Coast’s worst-ever crisis, left at least 3,000 people, mostly Gbagbo opponents, missing or dead. The fighting ended shortly after United Nations and French troops bombed the presidential residence to force Gbagbo and his wife to surrender. Ouattara was sworn in as president weeks after their arrest and comfortably won a 2015 ballot.
The court decision “will put the stability of the country at stake, as this has the potential to disrupt national politics,” Adeline Van Houtte, analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said in an emailed note.
Gbagbo’s likely return to Ivory Coast will galvanize the opposition’s challenge to Ouattara before the 2020 presidential vote. Gbagbo’s political party, the Ivorian Popular Front, fractured after his arrest, with several politicians vying to succeed him. Ouattara’s Rally of Houphouetists for Democracy and Peace took 167 out of 255 seats in 2016 parliamentary polls.
Hundreds of supporters celebrated the decision, which put an end to months of speculation in the Ivorian media about Gbagbo’s fate. Gbagbo’s wife Simone told a crowd that had gathered outside her house in the commercial capital, Abidjan, that it was “a big day for the nation.”
“Gbagbo has remained an important figure in Ivorian politics despite his long absence,” political analyst Ousmane Zina said by phone. He “still holds the weight to influence the outcome of the presidential elections in 2020.”
Charles Ble Goude, a former youth leader who operated under the nickname “General of the streets,” was also acquitted by the court. He was instrumental in organizing violent anti-French and anti-UN protests during the decade that Gbagbo was in power, including riots targeting foreigners that led to the evacuation of more than 8,000 people by French troops in 2004.
Ouattara granted amnesty to Simone Gbagbo last year after she’d been sentenced in 2015 by an Ivorian court to 20 years in prison for participating in an insurrection and causing public disorder. Ivory Coast didn’t grant a request by the ICC to hand her over because it said it wouldn’t help national reconciliation.
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