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Gbagbo faces ICC over Ivorian election violence


Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo appeared before the International Criminal Court on Tuesday to face four counts of crimes against humanity as judges prepare to decide whether he can be tried for masterminding a bloody 2010 election standoff.


Ivorian ex-president Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday faced International Criminal Court (ICC) judges who will decide whether there is enough evidence to try him for masterminding a bloody election standoff two years ago.

Presiding Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi opened the confirmation hearings at the Hague-based court's headquarters as prosecutors readied to launch their case.

Gbagbo trial: the word on the street

Gbagbo, 67, the first-ever former head of state to appear before the ICC, faces four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, for fomenting a wave of violence that swept the West African nation after he refused to concede defeat in November 2010 presidential polls.

Four months of fighting followed, ravaging the world's largest cocoa producer and leaving some 3,000 people dead, according to the UN.

For just over a week, prosecutors and the defence will argue their cases before a three-judge bench, who will then decide if there are "substantial grounds to believe that Gbagbo committed the crimes" and should be charged.

The prosecution says Gbagbo spearheaded a plan to "stay in power by all means ... through carefully planned, sustained and deadly attacks" against supporters of election winner and current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

Between November 28, 2010, and May 8, 2011, Gbagbo's forces killed between 706 and 1,059 people and raped more than 35 women, prosecutors say.

In one instance, some 80 people were massacred when those suspected of being Ouattara supporters were attacked in the northwestern Abidjan suburb of Yopougon a day after Gbagbo's arrest.

Closely scrutinised hearing

FRANCE 24's correspondent in Abidjan, Robbie Corey-Boulet, said “the reaction among Ivorians will depend very much on which side they were on during the conflict”.

“For Ouattara supporters, the trial is seen as an essential step in the process of moving on,” he said.

Gbagbo supporters in turn have accused Ouattara's camp of practicing "victor's justice" as many of the former president's backers are now behind bars -- including his wife, Simone Gbagbo, who is also wanted for prosecution by the ICC -- while none of those close to the Ouattara regime have been arrested, despite accusations of rights abuses.

Laurent Gbagbo: A portrait

“They say the trial is yet another example of foreign intervention at Gbagbo’s expense … there’s still a considerable amount of tension,” Corey-Boulet said.

“But among the more moderate element of Gbagbo supporters there is a desire to get on board with national reconciliation, provided they think that Ouattara’s government is acting in good faith,” he added.

Gbagbo, a former historian-turned-politician, was arrested on April 11, 2011, when Ouattara's forces -- with French and UN backing -- overran his heavily fortified compound in the southern economic capital after days of heavy fighting.

He was taken to the northern Ivorian town of Korhogo, where he spent almost eight months under house arrest before being transferred to the ICC's detention unit in November 2011.

During his first and only public appearance before ICC judges on December 5 that year, Gbagbo accused France of orchestrating his arrest, while his supporters at the time branded his incarceration a "political kidnapping". He has denied the charges against him.

Since then, the scheduled hearing to confirm the charges has twice been delayed -- once to give his lawyers more time to prepare and again to assess his health to see if he was fit to stand trial.

ICC judges ruled in November last year he could take part, but have instituted shorter court sessions and are allowing him, if need be, to appear via video link because of his failing health.

The hearings beginning on Tuesday are to last over a week, with Gbagbo expected to speak on the final day, February 28.

(FRANCE24 with wires)

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