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Ivorian ex-leader urges release of 'prisoners of conscience'

Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara (R) poses with his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo (L) on July 27, 2021 before their meeting at the presidential palace in Abidjan.   -  
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Laurent Gbagbo

Former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo on Monday called for 110 detainees to be released, describing them as political prisoners.

"We are fighting to get them out of there," he told around 100 wives of the prisoners whom he met in the economic capital Abidjan.

"The current goal of my programme is to fight for the release of all prisoners of conscience," he said.

Gbagbo raised the issue during a meeting last week with current President Alasanne Ouattara, the first between the two men since post-election violence in 2010-11 left 3,000 people dead.

"He didn't say no but he didn't say yes. He will do all he can to free them as soon as possible," Gbagbo said Monday.

The crisis was sparked after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Ouattara in the 2010 presidential election.

The ensuing conflict was brutal, with both sides accused of atrocities. After Gbagbo was ousted, he was flown to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity, of which he was eventually acquitted.

He returned to the former French colony, the world's top cocoa producer, in June with Ouattara's blessing.

Among Gbagbo's list of 110 prisoners are some arrested in the 2010-11 crisis and others picked up during the last presidential campaign last year.

Some of the named prisoners were detained for actions linked to Gbagbo's return to the country in June.

While Gbagbo calls them political prisoners, some on the list were convicted of violent crimes.

General Brunot Dogbo Ble, a Gbagbo loyalist who used to head the Republican Guard, was sentenced to 18 years behind bars over the murder of four people, including two French nationals, in April 2011.

"True reconciliation must include the release of these prisoners," said Simone Datte, president of the collective of women and parents of those detained in 2010-11, who took the stage with Gbagbo on Monday.