Reign of terror relived
War crimes prosecutors have accused former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo of orchestrating "unspeakable violence", including murder and gang rape by supporters, to cling to power after losing an election, plunging his country into civil war.
Gbagbo, 70, yesterday pleaded not guilty to all the charges when he appeared in the International Criminal Court, in The Hague. His co-accused, former youth leader Charles Blé Goudé, 44, also pleaded not guilty, saying he did not recognise the charges as valid.
Four months of conflict ravaged Ivory Coast in 2011 after Gbagbo refused to step down. Around 3000 people were killed and the fighting ended only when former colonial power France intervened militarily, allowing election winner Alessane Ouattara to take office.
The trial could ramp up tensions in Ivory Coast, where Gbagbo, the highest-ranked politician to appear before the International Criminal Court, remains influential.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Gbagbo and his inner circle had targeted Muslims and people of other ethnic groups whom they assumed had supported Ouattara.
"Ivory Coast succumbed to chaos and was subjected to unspeakable violence. Gbagbo never intended to leave office," Bensouda said.
She related the account of one witness who had been arrested at a pro-Ouattara rally and subjected - along with other women - to three days of gang rape by armed gendarmes.
Seven people were killed when state security agents opened fire from an armoured car on a demonstration in a marketplace.
Gbagbo's supporters, hundreds of whom were demonstrating outside the court yesterday, say he is a victim of neo-colonial meddling by France and accuse prosecutors of ignoring crimes by Ouattara's camp.
"We want him released," said Paris-based Ivorian Michele.
Ouattara was a "rebel chief" who had been helped by France to usurp power, Michele added.
Bensouda asked for "patience" from Ivorians, while her investigations into the activities of the other side continued.
Her plea was met with jeers from the gallery of the courtroom.