Ivory Coast’s ex-leader Gbagbo vows return to political life

National News

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo addresses delegates of his newly formed political party, the African People’s Party-Ivory Coast, shortened to its French acronym, PPA-CI, in Abidjan Sunday Oct. 17, 2021. The creation of Gbagbo’s political new party comes amid lingering questions about his future political aspirations. He served as president from 2000 until his arrest in 2011 after he refused to concede defeat to Alassane Ouattara. (AP Photo/Diomande Ble Blonde)

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo told supporters Sunday that he’ll be involved in politics until his dying day, detailing his ambitions publicly for the first time since being acquitted of war crimes charges.

The 76-year-old ex-president addressed a weekend gathering held for the new political party that he has launched: the African People’s Party of Ivory Coast, also known by its French acronym, PPA-CI.

Gbagbo returned home to Ivory Coast in June after more than a decade abroad, having spent the last two years awaiting prosecutors’ appeal of his acquittal at the International Criminal Court in connection with the West African nation’s 2010-2011 postelection crisis.

Since his arrival, Gbagbo has made public appearances but has limited his comments about politics, making Sunday’s comments his most direct yet on his future plans.

“I am out of prison,” he told about 1,600 supporters. “I am here and we will get back on track together.”

“I will be in politics until my death,” he added. “It is I and I alone who will decide in what form it will be done.”

Gbagbo led Ivory Coast from 2000 to 2010, then refused to concede defeat to opponent Alassane Ouattara. The fighting between their supporters brought Ivory Coast back to the brink of civil war, leaving at least 3,000 people dead.

Ouattara ultimately prevailed after Gbagbo was arrested from his underground bunker and extradited to The Hague. Ouattara has been president ever since, stoking controversy last October when he won a third term after previously saying he would only serve two terms.

The two men have been cordial since Gbagbo’s return, even appearing together at the presidential palace in July in an effort to strengthen national unity. However, Gbagbo was disqualified from running in the 2020 election against Ouattara, and it remains unclear to what extent the ruling party will be willing to consider Gbagbo as a future candidate in 2025 when he would be 80.

Critics of Gbagbo, though, maintain he should never have been given a statesman’s welcome upon his return. They say even if he was acquitted at the International Criminal Court, he should still be held accountable in Ivory Coast for his role in stoking the violence.

Gbagbo’s founding of the new political party marks a final severing of ties with the Ivorian Popular Front party, which he founded in the 1980s. The party splintered into two factions while Gbagbo was awaiting trial, with one led by Pascal Affi N’Guessan.

The two men have gone their separate ways and Gbagbo in August announced the formation of a new political party.

Arrested in 2011, Gbagbo spent eight years awaiting trial on the war crimes charges. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors 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.

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