Ivory Coast ex-president plans to return home from exile

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo plans to return to his home country after his passport was returned following his acquittal at The Hague last year, his lawyer said Friday.

Gbagbo has been unable to return to the West African nation since his January 2019 acquittal under the terms of his release, which had him remain in Belgium after having handed over his passports while awaiting a ruling on an appeal.

“Laurent Gbagbo today received two passports, one ordinary and one diplomatic,” lawyer Habiba Toure said. “He welcomes the act just taken by Ivorian authorities which, according to him, goes in the direction of appeasement.” The diplomatic passport can only be issued with the consent of Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo plans to return to Ivory Coast this month and has appointed Assoa Adou, secretary general of Gbagbo’s political party, to approach authorities so that he can return in peace and in accordance with his status as former president, Toure said.

Gbagbo refused to concede defeat after losing the 2010 election to Ouattara. Both men held inauguration ceremonies and the standoff persisted for months until pro-Ouattara forces captured Gbagbo from his underground bunker. More than 3,000 people died during the 2010-2011 crisis.

Gbagbo was brought before the International Criminal Court in 2011 to face charges of crimes against humanity, of which he was acquitted.

Gbagbo was convicted in absentia in Ivory Coast in 2018 along with three of his ex-ministers for the “robbery” of funds from the National Agency of the Central Bank of West African states during the 2010 post-electoral crisis. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined.

It is unclear what will happen if he returns to Ivory Coast, given the conviction.

Ouattara, who has been in power for nearly a decade, was re-elected last month for a controversial third term strongly contested by opposition leaders. He maintains that the two-term limit for presidents does not apply to him because of a constitutional referendum passed in 2016.

Gbagbo maintains a strong base of supporters who allege they have been left out the country’s reconciliation process in the years since his ouster. His return could further aggravate tensions that have mounted since the elections. His supporters supported his run for president, but his candidacy was not approved.

According to the government’s record, at least 85 people have died since August in election-related violence.

In a statement from his lawyer, Gbagbo paid memory to those killed. He also called for the release of all political prisoners and civil society leaders “unjustly imprisoned following the desire of Mr. Alassane Ouattara to run for a third term,” the statement said.

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