Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo, who returned home last month a decade after falling from power, will meet ex-president Henri Konan Bedie this weekend, Bedie’s office said on Monday, in the latest step in the country’s long-running political crisis.
“The visit will be the chance for a fraternal reunion between the two presidents following president Laurent Gbagbo’s return to his homeland as free man,” it said in a statement.
The meeting between the two men — former rivals who are now allies — will take place on Saturday in Daoukro, a Bedie stronghold in central Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo, 76, Bedie, 87, and Alassane Ouattara, 79, the current president, have dominated Ivory Coast’s political scene for decades, often plunging into rivalries or forging alliances.
During Gbagbo’s decade-long stay in office, the country was wracked by revolt and turmoil, culminating in a conflict that erupted after he refused to cede electoral defeat to Ouattara.
Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011 and hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges of crime against humanity resulting from the violence, which claimed some 3,000 lives.
He was acquitted in January 2019, a decision that was upheld in March this year and enabled him to return home on June 17.
Ouattara, his erstwhile rival, has officially welcomed his return, seeing in it a possibility of easing the country’s entrenched problems.
Last year, scores of people were killed in pre-electoral clashes with the police after Ouattara controversially unveiled his bid for a third presidential term.
The elections, on October 31, resulted in a landslide win for him but were gutted of credibility after most of the opposition boycotted the poll.
Bedie teamed up with Ouattara in the 2010 elections, but in 2018 his Democratic Party of the Ivory Coast (PDCI) joined the opposition.
In March, it forged an electoral alliance with Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (PFI) party.
Gbagbo’s former prime minister, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, has called on Ouattara, Bedie and Gbagbo to meet so that Ivory Coast “emerges definitively from the crisis and seals reconciliation.”
Gbagbo is currently in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he has been on a private visit since Friday to see former DRC warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba, with whom he became friends when the pair were both in detention at the ICC.
He is scheduled to return to Ivory Coast on Thursday. AFP