Blé Goude back in Ivory Coast after 11 years in exile

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) – Former Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude, who was acquitted of crimes by the International Criminal Court, returned to Ivory Coast on Saturday after more than a decade in exile .

He arrived in Abidjan on a commercial flight and made no comment at the airport, which was heavily guarded by police.

Ble Goude was the leader of the Young Patriots, a pro-government youth organization seen by many as a militia, and Minister of Youth under former President Laurent Gbagbo.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in violence that erupted after Gbagbo refused to accept defeat by his 2010 election rival, current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

Ble Goude was eventually cleared in 2019 by the International Criminal Court, along with Gbagbo, of responsibility for crimes including murder, rape and persecution following the disputed election.

Judges halted the trial before defense attorneys had even presented evidence, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case, and appeals judges upheld the acquittal.

Gbagbo returned to Ivory Coast last year and while some feared his return would spark further unrest, Gbagbo was received by Ouattara himself and mostly maintained a low profile.

Human rights groups say the Young Patriots created a climate of terror, erecting barricades and checkpoints where they tried to identify ‘enemies of Côte d’Ivoire’ – it that is to say the supporters of Ouattara. Because Ouattara is from northern Côte d’Ivoire and part of his family has roots in Burkina Faso, anyone with a northern name, as well as immigrants from neighboring countries, became targets.

Until Gbagbo was ousted from power in April 2011, Ble Goude regularly held rallies where he used increasingly xenophobic rhetoric, which many believe incited his supporters to violence – claims he has denied.

“Can you show me a single video, or a single audio, where I asked Ivorian youth to harm foreigners?” Ble Goude told The Associated Press in 2012 from an undisclosed location. “These are vulgar lies that I deny. That’s not true.”

Ble Goude was then arrested in 2013 in Ghana after nearly two years in hiding, then extradited to the ICC. After his acquittal, he asked for financial compensation, saying he was “the victim of an unjustified prosecution amounting to a serious and manifest miscarriage of justice”. ICC judges rejected the request earlier this year.

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Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed.

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