Ex-President Gbagbo back in Ivory Coast after acquittal

  • Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo arrives at the international airport, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021.  After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country following his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo arrives at the international airport, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country following his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo arrives at the international airport, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country following his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo arrives at the international airport, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country following his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Supporters celebrate the arrival of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Supporters of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo protest as they claim they are being forbidden to greet Gbagbo on his arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Supporters of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo protest as they claim they are being forbidden to greet Gbagbo on his arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Supporters of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo protest as they claim they are being forbidden to greet Gbagbo on his arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Supporters of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo protest as they claim they are being forbidden to greet Gbagbo on his arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Supporters of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo take part in a traditional dance as they celebrate before his arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Supporters of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo take part in a traditional dance as they celebrate before his arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • A supporter of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo takes photos with her smartphone at the Brussels international airport in Brussels, Thursday, June 17, 2021. The former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo is returning home to Ivory Coast for the first time in nearly a decade, after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    A supporter of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo takes photos with her smartphone at the Brussels international airport in Brussels, Thursday, June 17, 2021. The former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo is returning home to Ivory Coast for the first time in nearly a decade, after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Supporters of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo take part in a traditional dance as they celebrate before his arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Supporters of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo take part in a traditional dance as they celebrate before his arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo greets supporters attending the court session at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Gbagbo is scheduled to return home to Ivory Coast Thursday June 17, 2021 for the first time in nearly a decade. The move comes after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo greets supporters attending the court session at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Gbagbo is scheduled to return home to Ivory Coast Thursday June 17, 2021 for the first time in nearly a decade. The move comes after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • A supporter of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo gestures as she gathers with others at the Brussels international airport in Brussels, Thursday, June 17, 2021. The former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo is returning home to Ivory Coast for the first time in nearly a decade, after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    A supporter of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo gestures as she gathers with others at the Brussels international airport in Brussels, Thursday, June 17, 2021. The former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo is returning home to Ivory Coast for the first time in nearly a decade, after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

  • Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo arrives at the international airport, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year.

    Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo arrives at the international airport, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Thursday, June 17, 2021. After nearly a decade, Gbagbo returns to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 6/18/2021 2:29 AM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Former President Laurent Gbagbo returned home to Ivory Coast on Thursday, a decade after his refusal to concede defeat in a presidential election sparked months of violence that left more than 3,000 people dead.

Gbagbo was extradited to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2011 and spent eight years awaiting trial on war crimes charges. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

 

The verdict was appealed but upheld in late March, clearing the way for Gbagbo to leave Belgium, where he had spent the past two years.

After coming down the steps to the runway, Gbagbo soon made his way to a vehicle that was then surrounded by crowds as it headed toward the city.

He later made a brief but emotional speech to his supporters at his former campaign headquarters in Cocody.

'I am happy to return to Ivory Coast and to Africa,' he said before adding: 'I know that I am Ivorian but in prison I knew that I belonged to Africa.'

While the government led by his longtime rival President Alassane Ouattara has allowed Gbagbo's return to Ivorian soil, there already have been concerns about what impact his presence will have on the nation's political stability. It is not immediately known whether the 76-year-old ex-president will seek to re-enter politics.

Tensions between the jubilant crowds and security forces were high, with tear gas being used to disperse people coming to greet Gbagbo near the airport on Thursday. Clashes continued later along the route Gbagbo's vehicle took toward his former campaign headquarters.

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His opponents, though, maintain he should be jailed in Ivory Coast, not given a statesman's welcome. Some demonstrated outside Gbagbo's residence in the Cocody on Wednesday.

Thursday remained mostly a day of jubilation for Gbagbo's supporters, who long have maintained his prosecution was unfair and politically motivated. The ex-president garnered nearly 46% of the vote in 2010 and maintains a strong base of supporters.

'After his arrival we want peace and reconciliation, we want to live together because we were born together so we are obliged to live together' said Chief Tanouh, a traditional leader from the country's east.

Ouattara, who was ultimately declared the winner of the 2010 vote and has been president of Ivory Coast ever since, did not greet Gbagbo at the airport Thursday. The current president won a controversial third term in office late last year after the opposition claimed many of its candidates were disqualified including Gbagbo.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It still remains unclear what will become of other pending criminal charges against the ex-president.

Gbagbo and three of his former ministers were sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges they broke into the Abidjan branch of the Central Bank of West African States to get cash amid the post-election crisis in January 2011.

It's unlikely that Ivorian authorities will jail the ex-president, says Ousmane Zina, a political scientist at the University of Bouake. However, Ouattara is likely to attach conditions to Gbagbo's return in an effort to avoid reigniting tensions of the past, he added.

'Before granting a pardon or amnesty, he will want to obtain a guarantee that the country will remain peaceful,' Zina said.

___

Associated Press journalists Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal; and Bishr El- Touni, Mark Carlson and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.

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