Laurent Gbagbo launches new political party in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo launched a new political party Saturday, formally breaking ties with those who ran his former party while he spent years facing war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court.

Gbagbo, 76, who returned home in June after his acquittal was upheld, announced a few months later that he would be setting up a new party in order to avoid legal battles with his former ally, Pascal Affi N’Guessan.

Gbagbo was extradited to The Hague in 2011 and his Ivorian Popular Front party splintered three years later — with one faction led by N’Guessan, while former first lady Simone Gbagbo played a prominent role in the other.

Organizers say the proposed name of Gbagbo’s new party is the African People’s Party — Ivory Coast, shortened to its French acronym, PPA-CI.

On Saturday, Gbagbo greeted a crowd of more than 1,600 delegates in Abidjan, many holding small flags bearing his image. According to organizers, the ex-president will address supporters on Sunday.

The creation of Gbagbo’s political new party comes amid lingering questions about his future political aspirations. From 2000 to his arrest in 2011, he was president. He refused to concede defeat against Alassane Ouattara. The post-election conflict left more than 3,000 people dead and brought the country back to the brink of civil war.

Ouattara ultimately prevailed and has been the president of Ivory Coast ever since. Ouattara was elected to a third term after opposition candidates, such as Gbagbo, were disqualified.

On Saturday, the executive director of the ruling party, Adama Bictogo, was among those in attendance at the party congress.

“For us, coming to witness the birth of a new party led by President Laurent Gbagbo reinforces the existing democratic vitality and it will help with the advancement of democracy,” he said.

Notably absent, though, was the former first lady, Simone Gbagbo, who had traveled to Congo. Charles Ble Goude (Gbagbo’s ex-youth leader, who was also acquitted at ICC) also missed the event.

Laurent Gbagbo spent eight years awaiting trial on the war crimes charges. He was acquitted in 2019, after he found that the prosecution had failed to prove his case. Gbagbo was allowed to leave Belgium where he spent two years. The verdict was upheld on appeal in March.

While some had feared his return could set off new unrest, Gbagbo was received by Ouattara himself and has mostly maintained a low profile. Gbagbo’s critics argue that he should be imprisoned in Ivory Coast and given no state’s welcome upon his return.

Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

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