A defense lawyer says former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was working to restore democracy in his country when he was forcibly ousted from power by French forces, mercenaries and other supporters of current President Alassane Ouattara



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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A defense lawyer said Monday that former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo was working to restore democracy in his country when he was forcibly ousted from power by French forces, mercenaries and other supporters of current President Alassane Ouattara.

Lawyer Emmanuel Altit made the argument in his opening statement at Gbagbo's trial for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court.

Gbagbo has pleaded not guilty to four charges including murder and rape allegedly committed by his supporters during violence that left 3,000 people dead after disputed 2010 presidential elections.

Prosecutors last week accused Gbagbo of unleashing violence to cling to office after losing a runoff to Ouattara.

Altit said that version of events is a "political narrative ... intended to justify the use of force against President Gbagbo."

He accused the prosecution of ignoring abuses also committed by pro-Ouattara forces and said France played a role in the crisis, including providing weapons to Ouattara forces despite a U.N. embargo.

The defense Monday poked holes in the prosecution's pre-trial evidence and arguments, and noted they will continue to highlight such contradictions throughout the trial.

Gbagbo, 70, is accused with a former youth minister, Charles Ble Goude, 44, of involvement in the post-election atrocities in Ivory Coast. Both pleaded not guilty to four charges of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and persecution.

Human rights activists have welcomed the trial as a signal that leaders who resort to violence to hold on to power will be held to account.

The court adjourned for the day and Ble Goude's defense is scheduled to present Tuesday.


Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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