Former President Laurent Gbagbo returns to Ivory Coast after ICC acquittal
June 17 (UPI) -- Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo returned to the country for the first time in 10 years on Thursday after he was acquitted of charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.
Gbagbo landed in Abidjan, the country's economic hub, on a commercial flight from Brussels as crowds of supporters at the airport cheered his arrival.
Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Idris said the situation in the city was "very tense" ahead of Gbagbo's arrival.
"The police barricaded the entire area close to the airport and there were some incidents where they used tear gas to disperse crowds," he said.
In his first public remarks at the Ivorian Popular Front Party offices, he told supporters he was "glad to return to Ivory Coast and Africa" prompting "wild celebrations."
"For the last hour there has been a steady stream of supporters on buses, on cars, on motorcycles and on foot, moving towards the party headquarters," Idris said. "The supporters are telling us they are going to party all night."
The charges against Gbagbo stem from his refusal to hand over power to Ouattara in 2011, sparking violent protests in the country.
Thousands of people died and hundreds of thousands were displaced in an ensuing civil war as French troops and the United Nations were forced to intervene.
In 2019, the ICC called for his conditional release after judges ruled prosecutors had failed to demonstrate the existence of a plan to keep Gbagbo in power and he was acquitted.
An ICC appeals court upheld the acquittal in March, dismissing an argument by prosecutors that there were procedural errors in how the original verdict was delivered.
Gbagbo could, however, still serve prison time after he was sentenced to 20-years by Ivory Coast authorities in absentia in 2019 for "looting" the Central Bank of the West African States after the disputed election.