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Lawyer: International Criminal Court issues arrest warrant for ex-Ivory Coast president Gbagbo
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) ' The International Criminal Court on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant for Ivory Coast's ex-president who clung to power for months after losing an election and whose forces are accused of gunning down political opponents.
The court's move, which comes almost exactly a year to the day after Ivory Coast's disputed presidential election, threatens to stoke lingering divisions in this country that was brought to the brink of civil war by the election standoff.
Paris-based lawyer Emmanuel Altit said the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for the former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo through prosecutors in the West African country.
In Ivory Coast, Gbagbo's spokesman Kone Katinan confirmed that his lawyers had called and said a team from ICC was coming to get Gbagbo from the northern city where he has been detained.
International Criminal Court spokesman Fadi el Abdallah told The Associated Press he had no immediate comment.
"I have seen the reports, but there is no public decision issued by the chamber so I cannot comment on the statements of Mr. Gbagbo's lawyer."
Critics have long said Gbagbo, who ruled Ivory Coast for a decade before the November 2010 election standoff, should face criminal charges. The U.N. said earlier this year that attacks on civilians by Gbagbo forces "could constitute a crime against humanity."
Anti-Gbagbo neighborhoods were pummeled with mortar shells and so many people were killed during the more than four-month-long standoff that one local morgue had to stack corpses on the floor.
However, others point to the killings committed by forces who were supporting democratically elected leader Alassane Ouattara, who could only take office after Gbagbo was captured from an underground bunker in April.
A move to prosecute Gbagbo threatens to unleash further tensions between backers and opponents of the ex-president. Gbagbo still won nearly half the vote in the presidential election even though he ultimately lost to Ouattara.
Jack Koutouan, 67, a retired insurance salesman from the predominantly pro-Gbagbo neighborhood of Yopougon, called the move by the Hague "an abuse of the law."
"Are we not an independent country? Here we have judges that can judge our citizens. What good come out of transferring him to the Hague? That makes it look like we are incompetent. It's an indignity on our part, we as Africans."
However, businessman Alexis Koffi, 43, says Gbagbo should have been indicted a long time ago.
"I don't know why they've taken so long," he said. "(Gbagbo) is the most responsible. If he had respected the Ivorian people's choice ... We could have avoided the more than 3,000 deaths. They say 3,000 deaths so as not to shock people. It was more! That doesn't include all those who disappeared."
The ICC court has faced heavy criticism, particularly from Africa, that so far all seven of the investigations it has opened are in Africa. The court is also under fire for apparently only launching proceedings against one side in Ivory Coast's bitter conflict.
"Investigations with a view to prosecutions are needed without delay for individuals who fought in the forces allied with Ouattara," said Elise Keppler, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program.
"While the Gbagbo camp fueled the violence, forces on both sides have been repeatedly implicated in grave crimes. Victims of abuse meted out by forces loyal to President Ouattara deserve to see justice done."
Ivory Coast's long-delayed presidential election was intended to bring together the nation but instead unleashed months of violence that left several thousand dead. Then Gbagbo defied near-universal international pressure to hand over power to Ouattara. The two set up parallel administrations that vied for control of the one-time West African economic powerhouse.
Gbagbo maintained his hold over the country's military and security forces who carried out a campaign of terror, kidnapping, killing and raping opponents.
Some critics of Gbagbo had accused him of clinging to power in part to avoid prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
Ivory Coast was divided into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south by a 2002-2003 civil war and was officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal.
Gbagbo already had overstayed his mandate by five years when he called the fall election and won 46 percent of the runoff vote. When the country's election commission and international observers declared on Dec. 2 that he lost the balloting, he refused to step down.
Other West African nations had considered military intervention to remove Gbagbo, but those efforts never materialized. Sanctions imposed on Gbagbo and his inner circle by the U.S. and European Union failed to dislodge him.
While the U.N. passed resolutions allowing its peacekeepers to intervene to protect civilians, anti-Gbagbo neighborhoods in Abidjan continued to be pummeled with mortar shells. So many people were killed that the local morgue had to stack corpses on the floor.
In an act of desperation, Gbagbo seized control of foreign banks in Abidjan ' prompting their flight and a liquidity crunch.
Keaten reported from Paris. Associated Press writer Mike Corder at the Hague contributed to this report.