Former Ivory Coast leader pleads not guilty to atrocities

Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo unleashed a wave of deadly violence targeting political opponents in a doomed attempt to cling to power after losing a 2010 election run-off, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said as the court's landmark first trial of a former head of state began yesterday.

Laurent Gbagbo is said to have unleashed 2010 poll violence. Picture: AP

“Nothing would be allowed to defeat Mr Gbagbo,” prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told a panel of three judges in The Hague. “If politics failed, violence was seen as politics by other means.”

Gbagbo is accused together with a former youth minister, Charles Ble Goude, of involvement in atrocities that left 3,000 dead after the disputed run-off in the West African nation.

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As the trial opened, Gbagbo, 70, and Ble Goude, 44, both pleaded not guilty to four charges of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and persecution.

Ms Bensouda said she would call 138 witnesses including victims of violence and members of Gbagbo’s inner circle to testify about his alleged involvement in plotting the post-election violence even before the 2010 vote.

She made particular mention of one woman who was arrested during a demonstration by supporters of Gbagbo’s political rival, incumbent president Alassane Ouattara, and detained at a police headquarters for three days.

“During those three dark days she was raped, gang raped at the prefecture of police by armed gendarmes,” she said. Gbagbo came to power in 2000 in a flawed vote he himself described as “calamitous,” although he put off holding another one for a decade. In the 2010 race, Gbagbo placed first in the first round with 38 per cent of the vote before losing to Ouattara in the head-to-head.