Ivory Coast: Charles Ble Goude returns after years in exile
Yamoussoukro, Nov 27: Charles Ble Goude returned to Ivory Coast on Saturday for the first time in 11 years as the country's leaders seek to reconcile political tensions following years of instability.
The return of the former youth minister comes after his acquittal on charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in 2019. He stood accused of responsibility for murder, rape and persecution following the West African country's disputed election in 2010.
Ble Goude says he seeks 'peace process'
Thousands of Ble Goude's supporters gathered in the port city of Abidjan wearing clothes printed with his image to welcome the 50-year-old's arrival.
"I dreamed of this moment from my prison cell," Ble Goude told supporters. "You will accompany me in this peace process that our country needs."
His return follows that of former President Laurent Gbagbo, who also was accused of crimes at the ICC and was acquitted alongside Ble Goude.
What was he accused of?
Following the 2010 presidential election, Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to his opponent and current President Alassasne Ouattara. Months of violence followed, leaving over 3,000 Ivoirians dead.
Ble Goude served as the country's youth minister under Gbagbo, He was also known as the president's "Street General" and seen as the head of the Young Patriots street militia.
Rights groups say the group created a climate of terror, erecting checkpoints to identify supporters of Ouattara who were deemed "enemies of Ivory Coast."
Ble Goude held regular rallies after the election up until Gbagbo's ouster in April 2011, where the youth minister used xenophobic rhetoric. He was accused of inciting attacks on civilians and UN peacekeeping soldiers.
In 2019, judges at the ICC acquitted both Gbagbo and Ble Goude, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case.
What does his return mean?
Ble Goude is the last major pro-Gbagbo figure to return to Ivory Coast, coming amid a wider policy of rapprochement between political factions that President Ouatttara hopes will smooth tensions ahead of elections in 2025.
Last year, Gbagbo returned to Ivory Coast after a decade in exile. He was welcomed by Ouattara himself and and has maintained a low profile since his return. In August, Ouattara pardoned his predecessor.