Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo appears at ICC in Hague

Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo confirms his name before the ICC

Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo has become the first former head of state to appear at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

He faces four charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, in the wake of Ivory Coast's disputed presidential elections a year ago.

Some 3,000 people were killed in violence after Mr Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in the 2010 polls.

He was not asked to plead but has denied responsibility for the violence.

The 66 year old has also rejected accusations that the elections were rigged and accuses former colonial power France of plotting to topple him from power in the world's biggest cocoa producer.

His transfer from Ivory Coast - where he had been under house arrest since April - to The Hague last week sparked anger from his supporters who described it as a "political kidnapping".

His Ivorian Popular Front has pulled out of the 11 December parliamentary elections in protest.

'Deceived'

Analysis

Laurent Gbagbo's appearance in The Hague was viewed with disgust by his supporters in Abidjan, often close to shedding a tear at the rather tired appearance of their former president. On the other hand, for supporters of President Ouattara it is a victory of sorts and the humbling of the man who refused any compromise on power.

Few were able to follow the proceedings live - the lucky few watched on French satellite television channels or tuned in via the internet.

But for those who did watch there was a sense of drama - the first time Ivorians have seen him speak publicly for around 10 months. When the post-election crisis started building up steam, state television promised an address to the nation "in the coming moments", but developments behind the scenes meant that speech never came.

On 11 April there were those images of a crest-fallen man, sitting on a hotel bed with a hangdog expression and a tatty vest.

So, those who watched hung on every word from their former leader, who has visibly lost weight. He managed a smile, a little chuckle, in his characteristic, almost chatty, style. But the great communicator looked a shadow of his previous self and this was no Rivonia moment.

The BBC's Anna Holligan in The Hague says Mr Gbagbo looked calm, collected and in good health in his court-issued dark suit. He said he did not need to hear the charges.

During the 25-minute hearing, Mr Gbagbo complained that he had been "deceived" about his transfer to The Hague.

He said he had been told he was going to meet a judge in the north-eastern town of Korhogo when the arrest warrant was produced.

"My lawyers were not prepared for that," he told the court.

He also said that he was not told he was being taken to The Hague until after he was at the airport.

His lawyer Habiba Toure told the BBC the transfer had been illegal under Ivorian law and that current President Alassane Ouattara should also face justice.

The hearing was the first step in a process which could lead to Mr Gbagbo going on trial. The court said it would announced on 18 June 2012 whether to proceed to trial.

Mr Gbagbo's arrest follows an ICC investigation into the four months of conflict that began in Ivory Coast when he refused to hand power to his long-time rival Mr Ouattara, who was declared winner of the election.

The charges relate to events between 16 December 2010 and 12 April 2011, when Mr Gbagbo was arrested after UN forces helped bomb pro-Gbagbo positions, after pro-Ouattara forces had entered the main city, Abidjan.

Mr Gbagbo is accused of being an "indirect co-perpetrator" in attacks that were "widespread and systematic... committed over an extended time period, over large geographic areas, and following a similar general pattern".

There were numerous reports of areas seen as pro-Ouattara being shelled by Mr Gbagbo's forces and of attacks on northerners, seen as supporters of the long-time opposition leader.

'More to come'

Louis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the ICC, says there is evidence of widespread and systematic attacks against civilians.

Gbagbo: Key dates

  • 1971: Jailed for "subversive teaching"
  • 1982: Exile in Paris after union activism
  • 1988: Returns to Ivory Coast
  • 1990: Defeated in elections
  • 1992: Jailed after student protests
  • 2000: Declared winner of disputed elections
  • 2002: Failed coup divides Ivory Coast
  • 2007: Agrees power-sharing government with former rebels
  • 2010: Elections held five years late. Refuses to go after UN says he lost
  • 2011: Forced from power

But troops loyal to Mr Ouattara are also suspected of carrying out abuses, and human rights groups have urged an investigation into crimes allegedly committed by other parties.

As pro-Ouattara forces headed south, there are reports of massacres of people from ethnic groups seen as pro-Gbagbo.

Mr Moreno-Ocampo said Mr Gbagbo was only the first to be brought to account and "there is more to come".

The ICC was set up in 2002 to prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for the worst crimes - genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes - committed anywhere in the world.

It is currently hearing six other cases, all relating to crimes committed in Africa, including that of Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-resident of DR Congo, whose trial began in November 2010.

It has issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

The African Union has accused the ICC of concentrating on alleged atrocities committed in Africa and ignoring crimes elsewhere in the world - charges Mr Moreno-Ocampo has denied.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor is currently on trial in The Hague by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, set up jointly by the UN and Sierra Leonean government

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was on trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) - an ad hoc UN court - at the time of his death in 2006.

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