Smiles and hugs while President Ouattara of Côte d’Ivoire confronts old enemy Gbagbo. greet

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Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and his longtime rival Laurent Gbagbo hugged each other on Tuesday during their first meeting in more than a decade, as part of efforts to ease political tensions in the West African country.

I’m glad to see you,” Ouattara said as he welcomed the former president to the presidential palace in Abidjan, the economic capital of the cocoa-producing country.

They hugged each other before taking off the protective face masks they were wearing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and smiled at the cameras as they held hands.

Ivory Coast has been confronted with political tensions, mistrust and violence for more than a decade. More than 3,000 people were killed in a civil war in 2010-11 as the two men competed for power.

The civil war started after Gbagbo, now 76, refused to admit Ouattara his electoral defeat in December 2010, and he was arrested after the war. He returned from exile in June after being acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Gbagbo said he had urged Ouattara to continue the reconciliation efforts by freeing other prisoners from the civil war.

“I told the president – and you will agree – that I was their leader and that I am free today. They are in prison. I would like the president to do everything he can to free them Gbagbo said at a joint press conference.

Although Ouattara’s government paved the way for Gbagbo’s return, he still faces a 20-year prison sentence handed down in November 2019 on charges of embezzling funds from the regional central bank during the crisis period.

The government has not said whether it plans to enforce the sentence or whether Gbagbo has been pardoned.

Ouattara said he and Gbagbo would continue to meet and invited others to join them, probably after August.

“It is important for everyone to know that we have decided to restore trust and ensure that Ivorians also reconcile and trust each other. Past events have been painful. Too many people have died and we should try to put that behind us,” said Ouattara. .

(REUTERS)