Profile: Laurent Gbagbo

Ivory Coast's ex-president is the first former head of state to appear before the International Criminal Court.

    Ivory Coast's ex-president Laurent Gbagbo is the first-ever former head of state to appear before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

    He faces a week of hearings for crimes against humanity committed during a bloody election standoff in 2010.

    Two years ago, Gbagbo, who had been in power for a decade, refused to accept the election victory of the current president, Alassane Ouattara. In April 2011, his rival's forces arrested him.

    He stayed in the northern town of Korogho under house arrest and seven months later he was handed over to the ICC.

    The 66-year-old former history professor, who spent years fighting for democracy and human rights as part of the opposition, is from the south of the country. He began his career as a history teacher but was jailed for two years for "subversive" teachings.

    After getting involved in the trade union movement through a teachers' strike in the early 1980s, Gbagbo went into exile in France, where he set up the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI).

    He went into politics in 1990 when a multiparty system was introduced in the West African nation, allowing him to unsuccessfully run against Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Ivory Coast's president and independence leader.

    But he had to wait another decade before assuming power, when he won in an election which had barred Ouattara and another candidate, Henri Konon Bedie, from entering.

    Coup survivor

    In 2002, Gbagbo survived an attempted military coup, but the event triggered a civil war that left the country fragmented between the rebel-held north and government-held south.

    In the meantime, the president, whose supporters were accused of carrying out xenophobic attacks against immigrants and those from the north, decided not to hold fresh elections in 2005, when his term came to an end, saying the country was not ready.

    A peace accord and power sharing deal was eventually signed between Gbagbo and Guillaume Soro, commander of the rebels, in 2007. The 2010 poll was supposed to put Ivory Coast back on the path of democracy.

    Gbagbo beat Ouattara in the first round of the election, but after the second and final round, the country's electoral commission declared Gbagbo the loser and handed victory to Ouattara.

    However, the country's constitutional court overturned the electoral commission's result, declaring Gbagbo the winner, despite the United Nations and the international community recognising Ouattara as the legitimate winner.

    The political stalemate led to months of diplomatic pressure, including sanctions to get Gbagbo to stand down, but when he refused the two leaders turned to violence.

    Their armies fought for control of the country in a conflict that lasted four months.

    Some 3,000 people died, according to the UN, and the former president now faces four counts of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and provoking a wave of violence. He is expected to make a statement on Friday, February 28.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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