Ivory Coast's former first lady, allies to go on trial next week

Ivory Coast's former first lady, allies to go on trial next week
Simone, wife of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo, is seen at Hotel Golf in Abidjan, after she was arrested with her husband, April 11, 2011.

ABIDJAN - The trial of Ivory Coast's former first lady and leading opposition figures charged with committing economic crimes during the rule of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo will open next week, a defence lawyer and one of the accused said on Wednesday.

Gbagbo, his wife Simone, and scores of his allies were arrested in the wake of a brief 2011 civil war. The conflict was sparked by Gbagbo's refusal to accept defeat to Alassane Ouattara in a presidential runoff election.

The former president is now in The Hague charged with crimes against humanity and is awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court. However the uncertain fate of Simone, who is also wanted by the ICC, and other senior members of Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party has remained an obstacle to national reconciliation.

"The court informed us that the trial would begin on October 22 and would concern 89 individuals," Hermann Aboa, a former journalist with Ivorian state television who is among the accused, told Reuters on Wednesday.

In addition to Simone Gbagbo, those facing trial include the ex-president's son Michel Gbagbo and Pascal Affi N'Guessan, the FPI's current chief and a potential candidate in next year's presidential election.

A number of the accused are also facing charges for so-called blood crimes, acts of violence including murder and rape. Simone Gbagbo is charged with genocide for her role in the 2011 conflict, which killed around 3,000 people.

"For the moment this trial only concerns economic crimes. For the other charges, we know nothing. There is no programme," said Habiba Toure, a lawyer for Simone and Michel Gbagbo.

Though largely praised for a rapid revival of Ivory Coast's economy, Ouattara, now president, has been accused of not doing enough to heal the wounds of a decade-long political crisis.

Under pressure form human rights organisations, Ouattara released more than a dozen of Gbagbo's top allies from prison last year pending trial.

The government later announced it would not hand Simone Gbagbo over to the ICC and would instead try her in a domestic court. She remains under house arrest.

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