Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, who was forced from power after losing elections 10 years ago, has obtained a new passport and plans to return home this month, his lawyer said on Friday.
Gbagbo, who is in Brussels pending the outcome of proceedings against him at the International Criminal Court (ICC), “received two passports today, an ordinary one and a diplomatic one,” his attorney Habiba Toure said in a statement.
“He plans to return to Ivory Coast in the month of December,” she said.
Gbagbo has asked Assoa Adou, the secretary general of his party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), to “approach the appropriate authorities in order to organise his return in tranquility,” Toure said.
Gbagbo, 75, was brought before the ICC in 2011 to face charges of crimes against humanity arising from a civil war sparked by his refusal to accept electoral defeat.
He was acquitted in January 2019 but is awaiting the outcome of an appeal.
Gbagbo was forced out by his rival, Alassane Ouattara, after a brief but bloody civil war that claimed some 3,000 lives.
Ouattara went on to serve as elected president and won a disputed third term at the ballot box on October 31.
At least 85 people have been killed and nearly 500 injured in election-related violence since August.
Speculation about Gbagbo’s return has sparked fears of further division, as he retains a powerful following in the country.
He was barred by Ivory Coast’s top court from contesting the elections on the grounds that he had been sentenced to 20 years in absentia over the looting of the Central Bank of West African States during the 2010-11 crisis.
The opposition says Ouattara breached the constitution by seeking a third term and has mounted a campaign of “civil disobedience” aimed at pushing him out.
However, Ouattara, apparently seeing potential for Gbagbo in easing the tension, has several times said he favoured his rival’s return.
According to a source within the presidency, Ouattara was appreciative that Gbagbo, from his position abroad, had not joined the call for civil disobedience.
In addition, Gbagbo opposed participation by his party in a rival government, the “National Transition Council,” that the opposition set up after the election, the source said.