The former president of Côte d’Ivoire Laurent Gbagbo has returned home after ten years in exile abroad.
Laurent Gbagbo touched down on his home soil on Thursday upon receiving permission to return from the government of longtime rival President Alassane Ouattara.
After making his way down the steps to the runway, Gbagbo made his way to a vehicle that was immediately surrounded by crowds as it headed toward the city.
Tensions between the jubilant crowds and security forces were high, with tear gas used to disperse people who came to welcome Gbagbo near the airport.
Gbagbo somehow managed to navigate his way around the frenzy of supporters via security clad vehicles to his political party’s campaign headquarters in Cocody where he expressed elation to be back in Cote d’Ivoire, and the motherland.
“I’m happy about being back in Ivory Coast and Africa. Because (inaudible) I know that I am from Ivory Coast but in prison, I knew that I belonged to Africa, all of Africa, all of Africa supported me (inaudible) as well as my people, most of Africa.”
A decade ago, Gbagbo refused to concede defeat in a presidential election to current leader Ouattara.
His resistance to step down sparked months of violence that claimed the lives of over 3,000 Ivorians and resulted in his extradition to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2011.
After an eight-year wait for his trial on war crimes charges, a judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors failed to prove their case.
The verdict was appealed but upheld in late March, clearing the path for Gbagbo to leave Belgium, where he had spent the past two years.
While thousands celebrate his return, his opponents maintain he should not be given a statesman’s welcome. There were Ivorians who still demonstrated outside Gbagbo’s residence in Cocody on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Thursday was mostly a day of jubilation for Gbagbo’s supporters, who long have maintained his prosecution was unfair and politically motivated. The ex-president garnered nearly 46% of the vote in 2010 and still maintains his supporter base.