Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has pardoned his predecessor and longtime rival, Laurent Gbagbo, as part of a reconciliation drive ahead of elections due in 2025.
Ouattara made the announcement in a televised address on Saturday, a day before Ivory Coast’s independence celebrations.
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“In the interests of strengthening social cohesion, I have signed a decree granting a presidential pardon,” he said in his speech.
The president said he has also asked that Gbagbo’s bank accounts be unfrozen and that his lifetime annuity be paid.
Gbagbo, president from 2000 to 2011, returned to Ivory Coast last year after being acquitted in 2019 by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague on war crime charges for his role in a civil war sparked by his refusal to concede defeat after the 2010 election.
Back home, he still faced a 20-year prison sentence for a 2019 conviction linked to the robbery of funds from the Abidjan central bank during the post-election period.
But he has always denied the charges.
Ouattara’s decision for a pardon follows a rare meeting in July between him, Gbagbo, and former President Henri Konan Bedie.
Ouattara, in his Saturday speech, described that occasion as a “fraternal meeting” in which the three men had “discussed, in a friendly atmosphere, matters of the national interest and the ways and means of consolidating peace in our country”.
Gbagbo and Bedie have been invited to attend independence day celebrations on Sunday at Yamoussoukro, the country’s political capital.
The three men have dominated Ivory Coast’s fractious political scene since the 1990s.
Bedie was president from 1993 until his removal in a 1999 coup. Gbagbo governed from 2000 until his election defeat to Ouattara in 2010.
Tensions came to a head most dramatically after the 2010 election. Gbagbo refused to concede defeat, leading to a brief civil war that killed about 3,000 people before rebel forces aligned with Ouattara swept into the main city Abidjan.
Ouattara has presided over relative stability during his decade in power. But dozens of people were killed in clashes that broke out around the 2020 election, when he stood for a third term that Gbagbo and Bedie said was unconstitutional.
The president has not yet said whether he plans to run for a fourth term in 2025. He has said he would like to step down but also suggested he would need Gbagbo and Bedie to commit to withdrawing from politics in order to do so.
They have not indicated so far what their plans are.