Ousted Ivory Coast leader Gbagbo seeks return to presidency

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Thousands of people turned out Saturday to see Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo announce his bid to return to office even though he is ineligible.

Supporters came from all over the country to Agboville, 70 kilometres (43 miles) north of Abidjan, to hear 78-year-old Gbabgo denounce “the high cost of living” in a lengthy speech lasting more than two hours.

Gbagbo, who was president from 2000 to 2011, would like to represent the African People’s Party–Cote d’Ivoire (PPA-CI) but is barred from running because of a 20-year jail sentence for looting the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) in 2011 during a bloody post-election crisis that left 3,000 dead.

Even if he was acquitted in 2021 by the International Criminal Court of human rights abuses allegedly committed during the crisis and pardoned by President Alassane Ouattara a year later for the BCEAO case, he has not been amnestied, which bars him from electoral lists.

“I am not guilty”, he declared Saturday, saying he would divulge documents in the coming days to “reveal the truth.”

“For peace, for cohesion” we must adopt an “amnesty law”, said Bertin Kouassi Kouadio, federal secretary of the PPA-CI in Yopougon, a working-class area of Abidjan.

‘Remobilise the troops’
Gbagbo’s supporters are already organised for the elections that must be held within 18 months.

On Saturday, they paraded through the streets of Agboville, to the rhythm of traditional drums and singing in praise of their “president”.

Eloge Paibo, head of the PPA-CI in Abidjan, said the rally would “remobilise the troops”.

“This mobilisation should show the whole world that president Gbagbo has the means to win,” said Ines Nadege Blezir, a pro-Gbagbo activist for more than 30 years, who held a banner in the party’s blue colours.

The wider popularity of Gbagbo, who spent almost 10 years outside Ivory Coast when he was imprisoned at the ICC, is difficult to measure.

In the 2023 local elections, the PPA-CI won only a handful of towns and its leaders lost in many municipalities and regions.

So far, Gbabgo is the only political heavyweight to have declared their candidacy.

Tidjane Thiam, leader of the main opposition party, is expected to be named by the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire (PDCI), but President Ouattara has yet to say if he’s running for a fourth term.

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