ABIDJAN: Police fired tear gas to disperse a banned protest on Saturday by supporters of former president Laurent Gbagbo, just days before the International Criminal Court (ICC) is to decide whether he will go on trial for crimes against humanity.
Fifty young people shouting “Free Gbagbo” were pushed back while they tried to charge a barrier set up by police in the country’s economic capital of Abidjan.
Riot police fired tear gas, sending the protestors fleeing before they could reach Yopougan square, in a part of Abidjan that has long been a pro-Gbagbo stronghold.
Police, equipped with riot gear, sealed off the square, while a heavy contingent of the UN’s Ivory Coast operation blocked the main road leading to the demonstration with the help of four-wheel drives and armoured vehicles.
The demonstration, staged by the youth wing of Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), came ahead of a Tuesday confirmation of charges hearing at the at the Hague-based ICC that will decide whether his case will proceed to trial.
The former strongman has been held by the ICC since 2011 and faces four counts of crimes against humanity — murder, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts — stemming from violence after he lost presidential polls in November 2010.
Gbagbo made his initial appearance before the ICC in December 2011, but his confirmation of charges hearing has since been delayed several times.
Gbagbo, who first came to power in 2000, refused a decade later to acknowledge defeat by Alassane Ouattara in a presidential election, triggering a bloody showdown that lasted from December 2010 to April 2011, when Gbagbo was ousted at the cost of some 3,000 lives.
In a statement broadcast on state television RTI on Friday night, Interior Minister Hamed Bakayoko endorsed a ban on protests, citing the “risk of serious misbehaviour” and warning that police would be present to ensure the ban was respected.
Ivory Coast on Friday became a member of the ICC in The Hague.
Ambassador Youssoufou Bamba formally turned in paperwork to the United Nations in New York showing the country had ratified the Rome Statute, which set up the court.
The moves makes it the 122nd state to become party to the statute.
The court has also issued an arrest warrant for Gbagbo’s wife Simone, accusing her of being his “alter ego” in orchestrating a campaign of election violence.