Ivory Coast's Gbagbo in Hague court over poll violence

Tue Feb 19, 2013 1:06pm EST
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By Thomas Escritt

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo sat motionless as the International Criminal Court's prosecutor accused him on Tuesday of plunging his country into chaos in a bid to hold power after losing 2010 polls.

Gbagbo, 67, is the only ex-head of state to appear in the Court, whose credibility is at stake after a string of collapsed cases. The tribunal was holding a hearing to establish whether he will stand full trial for crimes against humanity for allegedly ordering his forces to commit mass murder and rape.

"What should have been a moment of national unity, the first presidential elections in 10 years in Cote d'Ivoire, descended into chaos and unspeakable violence," said Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor, using the country's French name.

Underlining the tensions which still plague the West African country, Dutch police on horseback held back some 300 Gbagbo supporters protesting outside the court building to demand that the charges that he directed mass killings and rape be dropped.

"He's not a dictator," said one supporter who called himself Babadwe. "Gbagbo loves his people and his people love him. Have you ever heard of a president who kills his people and then has his people love him?"

His lawyers accuse the court of political bias in favor of his successor, Alassane Ouattara, a former IMF official who has sought to kickstart the economy of the world's top cocoa grower and of the country that was once West Africa's commercial hub.

Gbagbo, a 67-year-old former history professor, was dressed in a sober business suit. Though he is not due to speak until next week, he watched proceedings from a seat at the back of the court. He looked relaxed and at one point broke into a broad grin when he spotted familiar faces in the public gallery.

The sessions have been spread over several days to take account of his health, which his lawyers say was weakened by months of detention in Ivory Coast before his transfer to the Hague court in November 2011.   Continued...

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo attends a confirmation of charges hearing in his pre-trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague February 19, 2013. REUTERS/ Michael Kooren