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Gbagbo lawyers absent during questioning over post-election violence

Ivory Coast’s former leader Laurent Gbagbo stood for formal questioning despite the absence of his lawyers Saturday, for an investigation over his role in the violence following last year’s disputed presidential elections, which left thousands dead.


AFP - Ivory Coast's state prosecutor on Saturday began the formal questioning of fallen leader Laurent Gbagbo Saturday, despite the absence of his lawyers.

"Laurent Gbagbo has been questioned in the presence of his personal doctor," prosecutor Simplice Kouadio Koffi told AFP as he emerged from the villa in the northern town of Korhogo, where Gbagbo is under house arrest.

He had spent nearly an hour inside.

Koffi said that on Sunday he would travel to Odienne, in the northwest of the country, to begin questioning Gbagbo's wife Simone. Simone Gbagbo was a key figure in her husband's regime.

Gbagbo and his entourage are being investigated over their role in the violence that followed the election last November of his rival Alassane Ouattara as president, a conflict that cost an estimated 3,000 lives.

The prosecutor chose to begin questioning him despite complaints from his French team of lawyers, who on Friday were turned back at Abidjan airport after they flew in to help defend him. Officials told them they did not have valid visas.

One of the lawyers, Jacques Verges, said Friday it was clear that the authorities in Ivory Coast did not want the former president to receive a proper defence.

"I am very pessimistic about the future of a regime which treats lawyers in such a way," he added, before being put on the next flight back to Paris.

Verges, whose past clients have included Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Carlos the Jackal, also denounced the French government for having remained silent on the incident.

On Friday, Koffi told AFP: "The presence of lawyers, while it is desirable, is not obligatory."

But Marcel Ceccaldi, another of Gbagbo's French lawyers, objected: "If Laurent Gbagbo does not want to be heard without the presence of his lawyers, there cannot be any hearing according to Ivorian law."

He would be visiting the Ivory Coast embassy in Paris on Monday to get a visa, Ceccaldi added.

Ouattara, was finally sworn in as president on Friday evening.

In a brief speech after the ceremony he said: "It's the start of a new era of reconciliation and unity between all the daughters, and all the sons of our dear Ivory Coast."

But he has also made it clear that Gbagbo should face justice for the conflict that sprang from his refusal to concede electoral defeat and step down from power.

The often-bloody stand-off dragged on for months despite the international community recognising Ouattara's win in the early stages of the dispute.

Gbagbo was finally arrested on April 11 with his wife Simone and roughly 100 loyalists after pro-Ouattara forces launched a raid on his residence in Abidjan.

The justice ministry said on Friday that investigators planned to question Gbagbo, his wife Simone and more than 200 figures from the former regime, a process that would last until June.

A UN human rights team is in the country investigating reports that fighters on both sides killed civilians.

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