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Ivory Coast’s former first lady Simone Gbagbo makes first court appearance

© Issouf Sanogo, AFP | Simone Gbagbo arrives in court on February 23

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2015-02-24

Ivory Coast's former first lady Simone Gbagbo on Monday questioned charges against her as she appeared in court for the first time accused of undermining state security.

"I don't know exactly what the concrete actions are that I am being accused of," Gbagbo said, insisting also that her husband Laurent Gbagbo was the legitimate winner of a 2010 presidential election that sparked five months of violence that claimed some 3,000 lives.

Ahead of her appearance, police moved to separate supporters and opponents of the Gbagbos as scuffles broke out outside the courtroom.

To shouts of "Murderers!" from opponents referring to the post-electoral bloodshed, supporters shouted back "Liars!"

Simone Gbagbo, 65, and 82 fellow defendants are accused of playing roles in violence that broke out in Abidjan when Laurent Gbagbo refused to admit defeat in the December 2010 election.

The former president himself is in The Hague awaiting trial in July for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

The defeated regime allegedly used brutal militias to attack supporters of the declared winner of the poll, Alassane Ouattara, but some of his backers are equally accused of atrocities, at a total cost of more than 3,000 lives.

The Gbagbos were arrested in April 2011, with Simone taken into custody in the north of the west African country while her husband was eventually turned over to the ICC.

'Ask forgiveness'

The Ivorian judiciary has ignored calls for Simone Gbagbo to be transferred to The Hague as well, insisting that the onetime "Iron Lady" and other key players should be tried in their homeland.

"We are here for justice to be done," Fanta Soumahoro, a woman who described herself as the niece of a victim, told AFP outside the court.

"We expect (Simone Gbagbo) to ask for forgiveness. We refuse to believe that she did nothing."

"Simone Gbagbo did nothing!" exclaimed a nearby man who called himself "Ble Goude Junior", after the ex-leader of the extremist Young Patriot movement that long supported Gbagbo. "She was the first lady. She wasn't a soldier. She shouldn't be here."

For almost a month, a succession of politicians, journalists and other Gbagbo supporters have been questioned before the court, including a former prime minister and seven other ex-ministers, but no witnesses have been called to challenge their testimony.

When journalists were accused of incitement to hatred, no press articles, broadcast recordings or video items were brought forward to back the prosecution claims.

Like the defendants, the political opposition and representatives of civil society have denounced bias and "victor's justice" in the trial.

No one close to Ouattara has been investigated or prosecuted in connection with the violence that rocked the commercial capital for five months, but his supporters are widely believed to have committed atrocities.

"This trial should have taken place at the ICC," where Charles Ble Goude also faces trial, said an elegantly dressed man in his 50s.

"A racket at the Abidjan courthouse does not paint a good picture" of Ivory Coast, he said.

(AFP)

Date created : 2015-02-23

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