28th July, 2021
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo met on Tuesday for the first time since the country’s deadly 2010-11 conflict.
Both said the turmoil was “behind us”.
“How are you Laurent? Happy to see you,” Ouattara said as Gbagbo arrived at the presidential palace in the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan.
At a joint news conference after their meeting, Ouattara said: “This crisis created differences, but that is behind us. What is important for Ivory Coast is peace in our country.”
Gbagbo, for his part, called for the release of prisoners held since the crisis, which was sparked by his refusal to accept defeat at the ballot box to Ouattara.
Gbagbo, 76, has leapt into the spotlight since returning last month from Europe, after having been acquitted for crimes against humanity in a landmark case heard at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The post-electoral conflict claimed more than 3,000 lives. After he was ousted, Gbagbo was flown to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity, of which he was eventually acquitted.
Tuesday’s meeting was closely watched for signs of whether the two former rivals have buried the hatchet, boosting hopes for national rapprochement after deadly clashes last year.
“The mere fact of seeing Ouattara and Gbagbo together is being seen as a sign of healing and a strong image for Ivorians in their quest for peace and national reconciliation,” the opposition newspaper Notre Voie (Our Way) said.
But Gbagbo’s spokesman Justin Katinan Kone urged the public “not to make too much” of the meeting.
“This is a courtesy visit to his elder… If it helps to ease the political atmosphere, so much the better,” he said.
A onetime international banker, Ouattara, 79, won a landslide victory in the last elections on October 31.
But the credibility of the win was undermined by an opposition boycott.