An Ivorian former rebel leader who hopes to stand for president next year denounced on Tuesday “unacceptable brutality” by security forces against his supporters
Soro was due to land back in Ivory Coast on Monday after being out of the country for six months, but instead diverted his plane to Ghana and eventually flew to Spain.
State prosecutor Richard Adou said an arrest warrant had been issued against Soro for an “attempt against the state authority” and intelligence services had evidence that showed the “plan was to be carried out soon”.
“The brutality of the repression against the Generations and People in Solidarity (GPS) party… is unacceptable,” Soro, who was parliament speaker from 2012 to 2019, wrote on Twitter.
He said the pilot of his private jet had been informed en route that the plane could be “assaulted” at Abidjan airport and decided to divert the flight to Accra.
However, he said the Ghanaian authorities refused him entry after he landed. He reportedly later flew to Spain.
Ivorian security forces were deployed heavily on Monday to prevent a large showing of Soro’s supporters either at the Abidjan airport or in the city.
The presidential election scheduled for October next year looks set to take place in tense conditions.
Violence in 2010-11 that followed a previous election caused 3,000 deaths, and local elections last year were also marred by fraud and fighting.
Although a former prime minister and aide to President Ouattara, Soro lacks the support of any of the three main political parties in Ivory Coast.
He has created his own group, Generations et peuples solidaires (GPS) or “Generations and people in solidarity”, and says that like French President Emmanuel Macron, he could surprise political experts.
“I have decided to take my destiny in hand,” Soro said. “I am 47 years old and I think I will go it alone.”
Despite accusations that he had backed a brief army mutiny in January 2017, Soro said he saw “absolutely no reason” why the judiciary would prevent his candidacy.
Ivory Coast has long been west Africa’s top economic performer and is the world’s leading cocoa producer.
But it has struggled with political tensions since Gbagbo refused to step down despite an election defeat in 2010, sparking deadly clashes.
Later, in 2012, rebels-turned-soldiers protested in Bouake and Abidjan and briefly brought the country to a standstill. The government agreed to an amnesty.
Strife-torn Libya, long a major transit country for migrants desperate to reach Europe via the Mediterranean, has been thrown into renewed chaos in recent weeks.
Military strongman Khalifa Haftar has launched an offensive to take Tripoli from the UN-backed Government of National Accord, intensifying the country’s crisis since the NATO-backed overthrow of Dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Thousands of people have fled heavy fighting on the outskirts of Tripoli that has left dozens dead and prompted mounting global alarm.
International aid groups have warned of the danger to migrants living in the city or being held in detention centres.
The IOM said that despite the fighting it was pushing on with its Voluntary Humanitarian Return assistance to migrants stranded in Libya and wishing to return home.
More than 16,000 migrants were repatriated from Libya in 2018 under the programme, and another 3,175 migrants have been returned so far this year, it said.
The International Criminal Court acquitted former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo on Tuesday over a wave of post-electoral violence, in a stunning blow to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Judges ordered the release of the 73-year-old deposed strongman, the first head of state to stand trial at the troubled ICC, and his former youth leader Charles Ble Goude, 47.
Gbagbo faced charges of crimes against humanity after 3,000 people were killed in months of clashes in the West African nation when he refused to accept defeat after elections in late 2010.
Prosecutors said Gbagbo clung to power “by all means” after he was narrowly beaten by his bitter rival — now president — Alassane Ouattara in elections in the world’s largest cocoa producer.
But head judge Cuno Tarfusser said that the ICC “by majority hereby decides that the prosecution has failed to satisfy the burden of proof to the requisite standard.”
Gbagbo and Ble Goude have been acquitted of “all charges”, he said, adding that the court “orders the immediate release of both accused.”
Gbagbo, who has spent seven years in detention, and Ble Goude hugged as supporters cheered, clapped and wept in the court’s public gallery.
‘Victory for justice’
“Finally there is some justice,” Gragbayou Yves, 45, a Gbagbo supporter from Paris, told AFP in the public gallery moments after the judgment was passed.
Wild scenes also erupted in Gbagbo’s home town in Ivory Coast, Gagnoa, with hundreds of supporters shouting “free, free” and dancing in the streets.
“I’m happy. He did nothing wrong yet he’s spent seven years in prison. It’s important that he should be free, he’s our leader,” said supporter Bertin Sery.
In Abidjan, Assoa Adou, secretary general of Gbagbo’s party the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), predicted the acquittal would ease political tensions rather than exacerbate them.
“We have just made a big step towards reconciliation,” Adou told a jubilant crowd at party headquarters. “Ivory Coast will soon be at peace.”
Adou added that the “stage is set for the unity needed to regain power in 2020” — when Ivory Coast will elect a successor to Ouattara, who has said he will not stand for re-election after serving two five-year terms.
Government spokesman Sidi Tiemoko Toure reacted cautiously to the ruling, urging Ivorians to “remain compassionate towards the victims” of the 2010-11 conflict, in which atrocities were blamed on both sides.
Gbagbo was captured by Ouattara’s troops, who were being aided by UN and French forces, and sent to The Hague in November 2011. His trial started in January 2016.
The judges on Tuesday said prosecutors had failed to provide evidence of a “common plan” to keep Gbagbo in power, a policy of attacking civilians, or that speeches by Gbagbo and Ble Goude incited violence.
Their release was suspended until a fresh hearing on Wednesday to give the prosecution time to respond to the shock judgment.
The office of ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the decision was “disappointing and unexpected”, adding that the prosecution had the right to appeal.
Gbagbo’s lawyers last year argued that his case had descended into “fake reality” and should be dismissed, adding that he was now “elderly and fragile”.
Gbagbo’s lawyer Emmanuel Altit called the ruling a “victory for justice”.
But the highly divisive case has tested the court’s avowed aim of delivering justice to the victims of the world’s worst crimes since its establishment in 2002.
The ICC has faced serious difficulties over attempts to try top politicians for crimes committed by subordinates or followers — most of them in Africa.
Last year, former DR Congo warlord and ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba was acquitted on appeal for crimes allegedly committed by his militia in the Central African Republic in 2002-03.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta also saw charges of crimes against humanity over electoral bloodshed dropped by the ICC prosecutor in 2014.
The Gbagbo result leaves the court “bitterly bruised”, said international law expert Mark Kersten of the University of Toronto.
“It leaves serious questions about the ability of the ICC to successfully target and prosecute state actors,” he told AFP. “It must learn from these trials and errors to be better — and meet expectations — in the very near future.”
Gbagbo’s wife Simone Gbagbo has also walked free after seven years in detention.
Ouattara granted the so-called Iron Lady amnesty last August, freeing her from a 20-year jail term in Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo however still faces a 20-year jail sentence for “economic crimes” imposed by an Ivorian court in 2018. Whether he serves it is expected to be part of negotiations about any eventual homecoming.
Ivory Coast ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, the first former Head of State to go on trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, was acquitted on Tuesday of charges of crimes against humanity, relating to unrest triggered by his bid to cling on to power.
Below are key dates in the Ivory Coast crisis:
After being delayed six times since 2005, presidential elections finally take place in October 2010, with incumbent Gbagbo facing off against old rival Alassane Ouattara in a final round on November 28.
On December 3, the constitutional council declares Gbagbo the victor — but the electoral commission says Ouattara won.
The UN too recognises Ouattara as the winner, with the EU, UN and former colonial power France urging Gbagbo to concede defeat.
But a day later Gbagbo’s allies hang the chain of office around his neck and Ouattara swears himself in as president in a handwritten letter.
On December 7, west Africa’s regional ECOWAS bloc suspends Ivory Coast over the crisis and calls on Gbagbo to yield. The African Union follows suit.
Gbagbo digs in, holing up at the presidential palace and retaining the support of the army. Ouattara sets up his government headquarters at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan.
In March 2011, after months of tension, unrest and unsuccessful mediation efforts, forces loyal to Ouattara based in the north launch an offensive against the army and win control of much of the country in four days.
French and UN soldiers deploy in Abidjan to prevent the use of heavy weapons in what has become a civil war.
After 10 days of fighting in the capital, Gbagbo is arrested by Ouattara’s troops. More than 3,000 people are killed during the crisis.
On May 21 Ouattara is sworn in as president before 20 African leaders and then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Trials and Reconciliation
On November 30 2011, Gbagbo is transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
In September 2014, a Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation Commission holds public hearings of victims and perpetrators of the 2000-2011 political-military crisis, but is criticised for its lack of organisation and results.
On March 10 2015, former first lady Simone Gbagbo is sentenced in the main city Abidjan to 20 years in prison for her role in the post-election crisis.
In August 2018, the 69-year-old is granted an amnesty by Ouattara after spending seven years in detention.
Gbagbo and his former right-hand man Charles Ble Goude go on trial in January 2016 facing charges of crimes against humanity, with Ble Goude also accused of commanding men who murdered, raped and burned people alive.
On January 15 2019, both are acquitted.
The ICC says that by a majority, the court “decides that the prosecution has failed to satisfy the burden of proof to the requisite standard.”
Ivory Coast and Chelsea great Didier Drogba announced his retirement on Wednesday after a 20-year career.
The 40-year-old scored 164 goals in 381 appearances for Chelsea, winning four Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the 2012 Champions League, while he is also Ivory Coast’s all-time record goalscorer with 65.
Drogba most recently played for Phoenix Rising in the United Soccer League.
“I wanna thank all the players, managers, teams and fans that I have met and made this journey one of a kind,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter.
“If anyone tells you your dreams are too big, just say thank you and work harder and smarter to turn them into a reality.”
Drogba played club football in six different countries in total, with the majority of his success coming in France and England.
He won the Premier League Golden Boot in 2006-07 and 2009-10, netting 104 times in the English top flight in total, and also scored a dramatic late equaliser when Chelsea beat Bayern Munich on penalties in the Champions League final six years ago.
Drogba’s last game was Phoenix’s 1-0 loss to Louisville City in the USL Cup final on November 8.