Ivory Coast charges youth leader with war crimes

ABIDJAN Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:02pm EST

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A militant youth leader and close ally of Ivory Coast's ex-president Laurent Gbagbo was charged with war crimes and murder, a spokesman for the state prosecutor said on Monday.

Charles Ble Goude, the former head of the Young Patriot street militia, was arrested on an international warrant in neighboring Ghana last week and was handed over to Ivorian authorities at the weekend.

Ble Goude was a powerful figure in the inner circle of Gbagbo, who is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. He eventually rose to become minister of youth.

Rights groups accuse his followers of committing grave human rights abuses including ethnically motivated killings and torture during a brief post-election civil war in 2011 that killed over 3,000 people.

"He is currently before a judge for his hearing ... The charges were war crimes, murder, economic crimes and kidnapping," spokesman Habiba Coulibaly said.

Ble Goude fled Ivory Coast at the end of the conflict, which was triggered by Gbagbo's refusal to accept a 2010 election defeat to Alassane Ouattara.

A U.N. experts panel last year accused him of continuing to raise money from exile in order to purchase weapons used in a series of attacks against security and infrastructure installations that began last August.

Ble Goude's supporters say the charges against him are politically motivated, and accused the governments of both Ivory Coast and Ghana of rushing his transfer.

(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams)

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