Ivory Coast ex-leader Laurent Gbagbo at ICC, denies war crimes

Ivory Coast’s ex-President Laurent Gbagbo has denied charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as his landmark trial began at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The charges relate to the country’s civil conflict that erupted after Mr. Gbagbo lost elections in 2010.
He is the first ex-head of state to stand trial at the ICC in The Hague.
Mr Gbagbo and ex-militia leader Charles Ble Goude both deny murder, rape, attempted murder and persecution.
As it began, Mr Gbagbo, 70, appeared relaxed, smiling and shaking hands with his defence team.
The BBC’s Anna Holligan, at the trial, said he steadied himself on his desk as he replied “not guilty” as the charges were read.
One of his advisers, Abdon Bayeto, had earlier told the BBC that Mr Gbagbo’s innocence was not in doubt.
He said: “There’s been a parody of justice here. Somebody has been in prison for five years with no proof.”
A key test, by Anna Holligan, BBC News, The Hague
This may prove to be the most important trial in the ICC’s history. The international court was established to end impunity and bring the most powerful leaders to justice. The first trial of a former head of state is testament to the prosecutor’s reach. And yet, despite casualties on both sides, not one of President Alassane Ouattara’s supporters has been charged, leading to accusations of victor’s justice.
During the pre-trial press briefing the victims’ representative was asked how she could represent the victims when only half of those had suffered would have their voices heard.
This high-profile trial will test the ability of the ICC to obtain reliable evidence from a country in which the government has a political interest in securing a guilty verdict.
Can the suspects expect a fair trial if much of the evidence comes from their enemy?
Mr Ble Goude, 44, said: “I always did everything to bring Ivorians together.”
Mr Gbagbo sparked a crisis in Ivory Coast after he refused to step down following his loss to Alassane Ouattara in the 2010 presidential vote.
There were bloody clashes between rival forces over five months in 2010 and 2011.
Some 3,000 people were killed, with Mr Gbagbo basing himself in the presidential palace.
He was arrested in April 2011 by forces loyal to President Ouattara, backed by troops from former colonial power , and later that year was extradited to The Hague.
It will be the highest-profile trial yet for the ICC, which has only convicted two Congolese warlords since its establishment in 2002.
Reading out the charges, prosecutors cited cases including the alleged rape of 38 women at a pro-Ouattara rally and alleged killing of 10 people by shelling at a market.
The prosecution said it currently planned to bring forward 138 witnesses.
Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser said neither Ivory Coast nor its people were on trial, and that he would not allow the court to be used as a “political instrument”.
Dozens of Gbagbo supporters gathered outside the ICC on Thursday to back the ex-president, sparking some scuffles with police.
“Our dream to see our president walk free starts today,” said one supporter, Marius Boue. “He is truly a man of the Ivorian people.”
Other supporters gathered in the Gbagbo stronghold of Youpugon in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan, to follow the trial.

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