While the government led by then-rival President Alassane Ouattara authorized Gbagbo’s return to Ivorian soil, there were already concerns about the role the former division chief could play in politics. national.
Gbagbo’s supporters started arriving near the airport at 6 a.m., long before the ex-president had even boarded his flight to Brussels. Tensions between the jubilant crowd and the security forces were high, with tear gas being used to disperse those who came to greet Gbagbo.
The ex-president made no comment to reporters before getting into a vehicle which was quickly surrounded by crowds. Officials from his political party had said he planned to tour Abidjan to visit his supporters in its strongholds, but it was not immediately clear how the delayed arrival of his flight could affect those plans.
Opponents of Gbagbo argue that he should be imprisoned in CÃ´te d’Ivoire, without being greeted by a statesman. Some demonstrated on Wednesday in front of Gbagbo’s residence in the Cocody district of Abidjan.
Thursday, however, was mostly a day of jubilation for Gbagbo’s supporters, who have long argued that his prosecution was unfair and politically motivated. The ex-president garnered nearly 46% of the vote in 2010 and maintains a solid base of supporters.
“After his arrival we want peace and reconciliation, we want to live together because we were born together so we are obliged to live together,” said Chief Tanouh, a traditional chief from the east of the country.
His longtime rival, Alassane Ouattara, who was ultimately declared the winner of the 2010 poll and has been president since, did not greet Gbagbo at the airport on Thursday.
Government spokesman Amadou Coulibaly said this was not protocol for other former heads of state.
“For us, it is a normal arrival of a citizen returning to his country,” he said.
After the ex-president’s acquittal was confirmed, Ouattara said the former president’s travel expenses, as well as those of his family, would be covered by the state.
It is still unclear what will happen to the other criminal charges pending against the ex-president.
Gbagbo and three of his former ministers were sentenced to 20 years in prison for breaking into the Abidjan branch of the Central Bank of West African States to obtain money under the post-election crisis of January 2011.
The Ivorian authorities are unlikely to imprison the ex-president, believes Ousmane Zina, a political scientist at the University of BouakÃ©. However, Ouattara is likely to attach conditions to Gbagbo’s return in order to avoid rekindling past tensions, he added.
“Before granting a pardon or an amnesty, he will want to obtain a guarantee that the country will remain peaceful,” Zina said.
Associated Press journalists Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal; and Bishr El Touni, Mark Carlson and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.
Toussaint N’gotta and Yesica Fisch, The Associated Press