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Belgium has agreed to take in Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast, after his acquittal by the International Criminal Court. The Hague-based court said the case against Gbagbo was "exceptionally weak."
Belgium will host Ivory Coast ex-President Laurent Gbagbo after it was contacted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which cited Gbagbo's family ties to the European country, Belgian official Karl Lagatie told the Belgian news agency Belga on Saturday.
The decision to host Gbagbo is a "part of the framework of our support for international criminal jurisdictions," Lagatie told the Agence France-Presse in a separate statement.
Gbagbo was freed yesterday after the Hague-based court cleared him of charges of involvement in deadly violence that erupted following Ivory Coast's 2010 elections. ICC Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji ordered Gbagbo and co-defendant Charles Ble Goude "to be released to a state willing to accept them on its territories." Both men were first taken to an undisclosed location, before Belgium confirmed it would take in Gbagbo. There was no immediate word on Goude.
Ordered to give up their passports
Under the conditions of their release, Gbagbo and Goude must return to court if they are summoned, must turn in their passports and cannot leave the country that agrees to house them.
They also have to report weekly to police or the court and they are barred from contacting witnesses or talking to the press about their case.
Gbagbo and Goude went on trial in January 2016. They were accused of involvement in murder, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts during post-election violence.
Former academic Gbagbo had been in power since 2000, but lost the 2010 presidential election to his rival and current Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara. In the disputed elections, Western powers and the African Union backed the election results and Ouattara's victory.
In 2011, Gbagbo was captured by Ouattara's troops, with the help of UN and French forces, and sent to the ICC for trial. But ICC judges stopped the trial on January 15, while still underway, citing an "exceptionally weak" case by the prosecution.
"After two weeks waiting in jail, it's quite a relief," Gbagbo's lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops said of Gbagbo's release. "Somebody who's acquitted should not be detained," he added.
Gbagbo's family has indicated that the former president would like to return to Ivory Coast but said he would go to Belgium first. A potential return to Ivory Coast would be difficult, as Gbagbo was handed a 20-year sentence there for embezzlement in January 2018, following a trial in absentia.
Gbagbo's acquittal represents another major blow for ICC prosecutors, as they also failed to win convictions for former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba in 2018 and Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta in 2014.
dj,jcg/bw (AP, AFP)