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ICC allows Ivory Coast former president Laurent Gbagbo to leave Belgium

Laurent Gbagbo

Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo can leave Belgium under certain conditions, the International Criminal Court said on Thursday, following his acquittal last year over post-election violence that killed 3 000 people.

Gbagbo, the first head of state to stand trial in The Hague, and his deputy Charles Ble Goude were cleared in early 2019 of crimes against humanity – eight years after the former West African strongman’s arrest and transfer to the court.

Belgium had agreed to host Gbagbo after he was released under strict conditions, including his return to court for a prosecution appeal against his acquittal.

An ICC spokesperson said Gbagbo could travel provided the country he was going to agreed to receive him.

It therefore remains uncertain if Gbagbo can return to Ivory Coast, where his Ivorian Popular Front Party (FPI) is preparing to challenge President Alassane Ouattara’s ruling party in elections scheduled for October.

But FPI spokesperson Franck Anderson was jubilant.

“We are happy, it’s important that these restrictions are lifted,” he told AFP. “We are waiting for the date of his return. We will welcome him.”

Gbagbo’s lawyers had appealed for his unconditional release, arguing the ICC could not limit the movements of an acquitted person.

The court rejected the demand but revoked certain restrictions and a condition obliging the pair to surrender identity documents – including passports – and report weekly to law enforcement authorities in the country they resided in or to the ICC.

Ble Goude told AFP overnight he was “happy to have his freedom of movement back”, adding that “the road to justice and to truth is long and slow”.

Gbagbo and Ble Goude had been charged with four counts of crimes against humanity over the 2010-2011 bloodshed following a disputed vote in Ivory Coast: murder, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts. They have always maintained their innocence.

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