Ivory Coast ex-rebel chief on trial in absentia for overthrow 'plot'

Soro, shown here in September 2020, was barred from running for president . Photo/AFP

Ivory Coast's exiled former rebel chief and prime minister Guillaume Soro went on trial in absentia on Wednesday along with around 20 supporters over an alleged 2019 "plot" to overthrow the government.

Soro, 49, who was also speaker of parliament from 2012 to 2019, has lived in exile for the past two years and is thought to be in France.

He is charged with fomenting a "civilian and military insurrection" as he was planning a return to the country in December 2019 to run for president -- a bid that was quashed by the Constitutional Court.

His co-defendants include two of his brothers; former minister and MP Alain Lobognon who was considered his right-hand man; and several other former MPs, all of whom have been held awaiting trial for the past 18 months.

Soro's lawyer, former minister Affoussy Bamba, is also in exile and being tried in her absence. They face life imprisonment if convicted. All have denied any wrongdoing.The team of lawyers defending Soro dismissed the trial as a "sham" in a statement on Tuesday, calling it a "political settling of scores" aimed at sidelining Soro and his movement from political life.

Since last October's tense and contoversial election win by incumbent candidat Ouattara, the country has seen relative calm, with dialogue between the government and opposition parties and various opposition figures released from detention or returned from exile.

Soro and his supporters however remain in the dock.

Former allies: Soro, left, with Ouattara in 2016. Photo/AFP

President Alassane Ouattara, who won re-election to a third term after initially stepping aside, said in October that Soro -- a former ally -- would be jailed for life.

Ouattara, now 79, had said after his second term he planned to make way for a new generation, but the sudden death of his chosen successor prompted him to seek a third term.

Soro, whose rebel forces controlled northern Ivory Coast in the 2000s, helped Ouattara militarily during the country's post-election crisis of 2010-11.

Incumbent Laurent Gbagbo demanded a recount of votes after the 2010 election, sparking a bloody conflict that claimed some 3,000 lives in the world's top cocoa producing country, formerly a beacon of stability and prosperity in the region.

Since then, Soro and Ouattara gradually drifted apart, until early 2019 when the rupture became final, analysts say, over Soro's presidential ambitions.

Soro was sentenced in April to 20 years in prison for "concealment of embezzlement of public funds", a conviction that torpedoed his candidacy.

Published/updated by ivorycoasttribune.com