Laurent Gbagbo back in Ivory Coast after acquittal.
Ex-president Laurent Gbagbo arrives in Abidjan after ICC judges upheld his 2019 acquittal on charges related to 2011 post-election violence.
The 76-year-old upon arrival made no comment to journalists before getting into a vehicle that was soon encircled by crowds.
This is the first time Gbagbo is entering Abidjan since his arrest nearly 10 years ago following his acquittal by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Gbagbo arrived Abidjan on Thursday on a commercial flight from the Belgian capital, with crowds of supporters allowed into the airport cheering as the Brussels Airlines flight landed. Thousands also took to the streets of Abidjan, where there was heavy security presence, to celebrate his return.
Recall that Gbagbo was in power since 2000, but was sent to The Hague-based court in 2011 after some 3,000 people were killed in a months-long conflict that followed his refusal to accept electoral defeat at the hands of incumbent President Alassane Ouattara.
He was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, but was acquitted by the ICC in 2019. Judges upheld the ruling earlier this year, paving the way for his return on Thursday.
Witnesses say the police barricaded the entire area close to the airport, and there were some incidents where they used tear gas to disperse crowds.
At the news of Laurent Gbagbo back in Ivory Coast after acquittal, thousands lined the streets and gathered around the convoy carrying Gbagbo as it made its way from the airport.
Gbagbo later told supporters of Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party he was “glad to return to Ivory Coast and Africa”, in his first public remarks since coming home.
Henri Konan Bedie, who was president from 1993 to 1999 and whose relationship with Gbagbo has known ups and downs over the years, welcomed his “younger brother” home in a message on Twitter.
“I have always thought it was important that he return to engage together in a true process of reconciliation,” Bedie wrote.
AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES reports that Gbagbo’s return is seen as a test for the country and a population that still has the bloody conflict fresh in memory, with some analysts saying there are concerns that it could again destabilise the world’s largest cocoa producer.
The former president’s opponents maintain he should be jailed in Ivory Coast, not given a statesman’s welcome. Some demonstrated outside Gbagbo’s residence in the Cocody neighborhood of Abidjan on Wednesday.