Exiled Ivory Coast ex-leader Gbagbo to return June 17: party

Laurent Gbagbo was the first former head of state to stand trial at the ICC/AFP

Former president Laurent Gbagbo will return to Ivory Coast on June 17 after a decade following his acquittal of crimes against humanity during a civil war, a party official said Monday.

In April, the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague confirmed that Gbagbo and his former right-hand man Charles Ble Goude were in the clear over the devastating post-electoral violence that rocked the West African nation in 2010-11.

"I am announcing the return of president Laurent Gbagbo on Ivorian soil on June 17," said Assoa Adou, general secretary of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party Gbagbo founded.

The announcement was made on Gbagbo's 76th birthday.

More than 3,000 people were killed in months of fighting after the 2010 election, when Gbagbo disputed the results of the vote. 

Gbagbo was eventually forced out of power. He was arrested in April 2011 and was held in northern Ivory Coast before being transferred to the ICC.

He became the first head of state to stand trial at the court, though both he and Ble Goude always insisted they were not guilty of crimes against humanity.

Despite spending years behind bars in the Dutch city, as well as time in Brussels as he awaited the outcome of an appeal against his acquittal in 2019, the former president retains strong support at home.

Ouattara has said that his predecessor was welcome to return home and would "enjoy ... the advantages and allowances available to former presidents".

Gbagbo's supporters have hailed the ICC's decision to uphold his acquittal along with that of Ble Goude, saying their return would heal the wounds of a conflict that split the country along north-south lines.

Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa producer, is divided between the Muslim-majority north and the Christian-dominated south.

Ouattara is a Muslim northerner while Gbagbo is a Christian from the south.

 Published/Updated 02/06/[email protected]:43