Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivory Coast president cleared by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, on Monday slammed The Hague-based court as biased and “not serious”.
Gbagbo’s first comments on the trial and his acquittal since his return to Ivory Coast after a 10-year absence, was met with rousing cheers from supporters in his home village of Mama in southwest Ivory Coast.
“The ICC, it’s not serious, it had to eliminate an inconvenient man, an inconvenient competitor, so they put me there”, he told journalists and local chiefs.
“But I have no regrets, because if I had come back with the title of criminal, it’s you all here who were going to be ashamed,” he said.
Gbagbo was speaking a day after his return to his village, where he had received a hero’s welcome from thousands of supporters.
He then headed to the town of Blouzon, near Mama, to visit the grave of his mother Marguerite Gado, who died in 2014 when he was in prison at the ICC in The Hague.
Gbagbo was able to return to his country earlier this month after having been definitively acquitted by the ICC on charges stemming from violence that claimed around 3,000 lives following his refusal to concede electoral defeat in 2010 to current President Alassane Ouattara.
‘I’m not a criminal’
“Even the whites, who don’t know us, who follow our little quarrels here, knew I (was not) a criminal,” Gbagbo said on Monday.
“Me, I do everything, eh, but I’m not a criminal,” he added, to laughter from his audience.
His words struck a chord with the crowd.
“Gbagbo has come to bring peace to the nation,” said Brigitte Koudou, who came from the neighbouring village of Zebizekou to see him.
Villagers danced and sang in the main village square exhorting Gbagbo to speak.
“President Gbagbo is free,” said Beatrice Djedje. “We want to hear him, even if it is a single word.”
Earlier Monday, Gbagbo met with traditional chiefs who had travelled from all over the centre-west region, his political stronghold, to meet him.
Local chieftain Joseph Goli Obrou from Gbagbo’s Bete ethnic group said the former president was vital for healing scars in the country, a regional powerhouse and the world’s top cocoa producer.
“He has to use his popularity to urge the Ivorian people to opt for total reconciliation,” he told AFP.
Gbagbo will undergo a “purificatory” ceremony traditionally reserved for someone who has served time in prison and has been released.
“Tomorrow when I purify him, I will ask him to serve the process of reconciliation and that his first words to the nation should go towards reconciliation,” Obrou said.
Gbagbo’s return to the former French colony on June 17 saw violence, with police making massive use of tear gas to disperse crowds.
His Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party said several dozen of his followers were arrested.
Ouattara, re-elected controversially to a third term in October 2020, gave the green light for Gbagbo’s return a few days after the ICC in late March upheld his acquittal first pronounced in January 2019.