The International Criminal Court in The Hague has freed former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo. The court acquitted Gbagbo, who has been in custody since 2011, of all war crimes charges.
Judges at The Hague-based court delivered the eagerly awaited decision on Tuesday morning, clearing 73-year-old Gbagbo of all charges of crimes against humanity over post-electoral violence.
Head judge Cuno Tarfusser said the court granted "the defence motions for acquittal for all charges for Mr Laurent Gbagbo," as well as his co-defendant, Charles Ble Goude.
Tarfusser said that a majority of the three-judge bench found that "the prosecutor has failed to satisfy the burden of proof" against both men.
Lawyers for the pair had asked judges to acquit them both over a lack of evidence at the end of the prosecution case in their trial that began just under three years ago.
Gbagbo's supporters, many of whom had traveled to The Hague, broke into cheers and dancing when the verdict was announced.
The 73-year-old Gbagbo was the first former head of state to go on trial at the court in The Netherlands. His case was seen as a milestone in efforts to bring high-ranking leaders accused of atrocities to justice.
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Gbagbo's release was suspended until Wednesday, to allow time for the prosecution to respond to the shock judgment.
Thousands killed in wake of vote
Some 3,000 people were killed in violence in the West African country during clashes in 2010 and 2011, when Gbagbo refused to accept an electoral defeat.
His rival at the time was current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.
Read more: Ivory Coast: A country still deeply divided
Prosecutors claimed that Gbagbo and Ble Goude — known as Gbagbo's "Street General" — clung to power "by all means" after he was narrowly defeated. However, judges said there was no evidence of a "common plan" to stoke the violence.
Gbagbo's wife Simone, Ivory Coast's so-called "Iron Lady," was freed in August from a 20-year jail term in Ivory Coast, having been granted an amnesty by Ouattara, after seven years in detention.
The Hague court's decision was another big setback for the prosecution, which has been stung by a series of defeats. They include the acquittal of Congolese ex-vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba, whose war crimes conviction was overturned last year, and the dropping of charges in 2015against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.
rc/rg (AFP, AP, Reuters)