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Laurent Gbagbo freed in Belgium after ICC acquittal

The former Ivory Coast president has secured a 90-day visa.

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Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo enters the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague on January 15, 2019.
Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo enters the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague on January 15, 2019. Peter Dejong / ANP / AFP

Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo has been released in Belgium under conditions following his acquittal by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the court said Tuesday.

Belgium said on Saturday that it had agreed in principle to host Gbagbo pending a possible prosecution appeal, after he was cleared of crimes against humanity on January 15.

The conditions include that Gbagbo, 73, will return to court if required for a possible prosecution appeal against his acquittal, and that he surrender his passport to Belgian authorities.

“Mr Gbagbo is now released under conditions in Belgium,” an ICC spokeswoman said, without giving further details.

Gbagbo was the first former head of state to stand trial at the ICC and had been held in the Netherlands since 2011.

ICC judges acquitted Gbagbo and Ble Goude on charges stemming from a wave of violence after disputed elections in the West African nation in 2010. 

More than 3,000 people died on both sides of the Ivory Coast conflict after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to his rival – and now-president – Alassane Ouattara.

The former strongman and his aide Charles Ble Goude have been staying in an undisclosed location since their release from an official ICC detention centre late Friday.

Belgian immigration office spokeswoman Dominique Ernould confirmed that Gbagbo had been granted a visa.

“We have given instructions to grant him a visa… which allows him to stay for 90 days,” she told AFP.

The visa would allow him to register as a resident in Belgium. Such visas are only renewed in exceptional circumstances, Belgian sources said.

There will be surveillance

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said on Saturday that there had been “a request from the court to host Mr Gbagbo simply because he has family in Belgium: his second wife, a child in Brussels”.

“We have concluded that it is alright for him to stay in Belgium while on conditional release,” he said, adding: “There will be surveillance.”

The delay in Gbagbo’s release was because prosecutors said that he should be kept in detention pending a possible appeal against his acquittal, arguing that he would not return to the court if there was a retrial.

Appeals judges rejected the prosecution argument on Friday after Belgium said it was ready to host him.

The release conditions include that Belgium will guarantee that Gbagbo would go back to the ICC if required.

He must also surrender his travel documents, report to authorities weekly, avoid contacting witnesses in Ivory Coast, and refrain from making public statements about the case, court documents said on Friday.

The ICC’s unwillingness to let Gbagbo return to Ivory Coast could be linked to that country’s refusal to surrender Gbagbo’s first wife, Simone, despite an outstanding ICC warrant for her arrest for her role in the violence.

She was convicted and jailed by the courts there in 2015, but Ouattara granted her an amnesty last year, to allow her release after seven years in detention.

Gbagbo’s release comes at a particularly tense time in Ivory Coast.

With presidential elections due in 2020, Ouattara has not said whether he will seek a second term, and the coalition he formed with Henri Konan Bedie, his former ally against Gbagbo, has collapsed.

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East Africa News & Stories

Ethiopia mourns death of army chief, top officials after failed coup attempt

Amhara president, Ambachew Mekonnen, army chief and other top officials died from Saturday’s foiled coup attempt

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Ethiopia mourns death of army chief, top officials after failed coup attempt
(File photo)

Ethiopia held a day of mourning Monday, reeling from the murder of the army chief and the leader of Amhara state in two attacks believed linked to a coup bid in the northern region.

Flags in the capital Addis Ababa flew at half mast after a day of mourning was announced on state television.

“All of us will remember the people who lost their lives for our togetherness and unity,” a television announcer said, reading a statement from parliament speaker, Tagesse Chafo.

Related: Ethiopian army chief, regional president shot dead in Amhara coup attempt

“It is a sad day for the whole nation. We have lost people who were patriotic. They are martyrs of peace.”

On Saturday afternoon, the president of Amhara, the second-largest of Ethiopia’s nine autonomous states, was in a meeting with top officials when a “hit squad” attacked, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said.

Amhara president, Ambachew Mekonnen as well as his adviser were killed, while the state’s attorney general also died from injuries.

Abiy took to national television dressed in military fatigues and described the situation in Amhara as an attempted coup.

A few hours after the attack in Amhara, army chief of staff, Seare Mekonnen was shot dead in his Addis Abeba home by his bodyguard, in what the government said appeared to be “a co-ordinated attack”.

Amhara, in the northern highlands, is home to the ethnic group by the same name, and the birthplace of many of its emperors as well as the national language Amharic.

The Amhara are the second-largest ethnic grouping after the Oromo, and both spearheaded two years of anti-government protests which led to the resignation of former prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn.

Abiy, an Oromo, took power in April 2018 and has been lauded for a string of efforts to reform a nation which has known only the authoritarian rule of emperors and strongmen.

He has embarked on economic reforms, allowed dissident groups back into the country, sought to crack down on rights abuses and arrested dozens of top military officials.

However, his efforts have unleashed deadly clashes, with ethnic tensions bubbling to the surface, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

Analysts attribute this violence to the releasing of the iron grip of government, stirring bitter rivalries in local politics and prompting a jockeying for power and positions.

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National Oil Company warns that any attempt to disrupt the sector would escalate unrest

“Any deliberate disruption of oil sector operations will severely impact national revenue streams, potentially render NOC in contravention of contractual obligations

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Libya's National Oil Company in the capital Tripoli. The Oil company warns against shutdown as it it will escalate conflict

Libya’s National Oil Company has warned that any bid to tamper with the sector could escalate unrest in the country after the parliamentary speaker called for a halt to production. In a statement issued late Saturday, NOC said it “is concerned by recent calls for the shutdown of national oil production”.

“Any deliberate disruption of oil sector operations will severely impact national revenue streams, potentially render NOC in contravention of contractual obligations, and create further division in the country.” Libya has been in conflict since the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival administrations vying for power and to control its oil wealth.

The conflict has been exacerbated since April when commander Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east of the country where most oil fields are located, launched an offensive against the capital Tripoli. The city is the seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), while the elected parliament which supports Haftar is based in eastern Libya.

Last week parliamentary speaker Aguila Saleh Issa said oil production must cease, accusing the GNA of using oil revenues to finance the militias fighting Haftar, in an interview with an Egyptian news channel.

The country’s oil company, which is headquartered in Tripoli, has repeatedly insisted on its neutral status and refused to be drawn into the conflict. “This crucial source of income to the state, vital to all Libyans, must remain de-politicised and uninterrupted,” NOC said on Saturday.

But it also called for “economic transparency – including the equitable distribution of oil revenues nationally – to be embraced by all parties as an integral element of Libya’s future stability, and any lasting political settlement”. Libya’s oil revenues are managed by the country’s central bank, which is also based in Tripoli.

Both Haftar and the eastern parliament have repeatedly said that oil revenues are not evenly distributed and accuse the GNA of using the funds to finance its militias. Last month UN envoy Ghassan Salame said that Libya – which produces more than a million barrels of oil a day – was “committing suicide” and plundering its oil wealth to pay for the war.

On Saturday he met Haftar to discuss the Tripoli offensive and ways to “accelerate the transition towards reaching a political solution” in the country, the United Nations said.

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Court in Sudan orders authorities to resume internet services

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections was cut across Sudan by the ruling military council

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A Sudanese woman works at a travel agency in Khartoum on June 17, 2019 as businesses struggle to keep their services going after being hit by an internet blackout.
A Sudanese woman works at a travel agency in Khartoum as businesses struggle to keep their services going after being hit by an internet blackout.

A Sudanese court Sunday ordered authorities to end a nationwide internet blockade imposed by the ruling generals after a deadly crackdown on protesters earlier this month, a lawyer said.

Crowds of protesters were violently dispersed on June 3 by men in military fatigues, who stormed a weeks-long protest camp outside the army headquarters in Khartoum where they had camped to demand that the generals step down.

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections was cut across Sudan by the ruling military council, with users saying it was done to prevent further mobilisation of protesters.

Lawyer Abdelazim al-Hassan said he had filed a petition against the blockade, and on Sunday a court in Khartoum ordered that the services be resumed.

“I had filed the case 10 days ago and Judge Awatef Abdellatiff ordered the telecommunications department to resume the internet services immediately,” Hassan said. Authorities can appeal the decision.

For the generals the internet and social media are a threat.

“Regarding social media, we see during this period that it represents a threat for the security of the country and we will not allow that,” military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi said earlier this month.

The internet blockade was an attempt to quell new protests against the generals, who have so far resisted to hand power to a civilian administration as demanded by demonstrators, protest leaders say.

Tens of thousands of protesters were mobilised through online social media apps during the months-long campaign against the now ousted leader Omar al-Bashir.

Protest leaders have resorted to neighbourhood campaigns to keep their movement alive, with activists mobilising supporters in night-time gatherings, witnesses said.

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