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Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara says he will allow Laurent Gbagbo to return

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Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo

Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara said he is in favour of allowing his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo, currently on trial in The Hague, to return after a presidential election next week.

“Laurent Gbagbo will return, there’s no problem,” Ouattara, who is standing for a controversial third term as president in the vote on October 31, told French newspaper Le Monde.

“I will take the measures to allow him to return” as soon as Gbagbo’s trial at the International Criminal Court “is over,” Ouattara said.

Former strongman Gbagbo, 75, who was president from 2000 to 2010, and former rebel leader Guillaume Soro, 47, both played key roles in the crisis that engulfed the country after disputed elections in 2010.

Their candidacies for the current election have been ruled out by the country’s top court on the grounds that they have criminal records.

Gbagbo, who lives in Brussels pending the final outcome of proceedings against him by the ICC, was handed a 20-year jail term in absentia by an Ivorian court last November over the looting of the Central Bank of West African States during the post-election crisis.

Soro, who has fallen out with Ouattara and today lives in France, was handed a 20-year sentence in April, also in absentia, for alleged embezzlement of public funds.

In Gbagbo’s case, Ouattara said he did not intend “to grant amnesty but… to take a decision which facilitates his return”.

By contrast, the president insisted Soro should be jailed for life.

“For him it will be prison. There is no doubt about it. He deserves life imprisonment for what he has done,” Ouattara said.

Tensions are running high ahead of the October 31 vote.

Ouattara’s opponents accuse him of shredding a constitutional limit of two terms in office.

Violent protests against Ouattara’s candidacy left around 15 dead last month, reviving memories of a post-election conflict nearly a decade ago that claimed more than 3,000 lives.

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