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Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo returned home on Thursday for the first time in a decade after being acquitted by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity, AFP journalists saw.
Gbagbo, 76, arrived aboard a flight from Brussels to a tense atmosphere, with police using tear gas to disperse supporters near Abidjan airport.
Gbagbo was forced out in April 2011 after a months-long conflict sparked by his refusal to accept electoral defeat by Alassane Ouattara, the current president.
The short but bitter war claimed around 3,000 lives, divided the country along north-south lives and left traumatic memories that linger today.
He was then transferred to The Hague for a lengthy trial on charges relating to the conflict.
He was acquitted in January 2019, a verdict that was upheld in March this year.
His homecoming is seen by many commentators as a crucial test of national stability.
The authorities say they welcome his return to help “national reconciliation” following presidential elections last year in which scores of people died.
Ouattara, 79, has issued his erstwhile rival with a diplomatic passport and promised him the rewards and status due to ex-presidents.
But they have also worried about potential unrest as Gbagbo’s many supporters celebrate their hero’s return.
His attorney Habiba Toure told AFP in Brussels that Gbagbo “is happy, enthusiastic and wants to play his part to try to reconcile Ivorians. He needs to talk to his people.”
This post was written by Chinedu Ibeakanma.
The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.