ABIDJAN (Reuters) - The party of Ivory Coast’s ex-president Laurent Gbagbo has chosen its leader, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, to run in an Oct. 25 presidential election that will mark its return to electoral politics following a string of boycotts since a brief 2011 war.
Gbagbo is awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court for his alleged responsibility for crimes against humanity committed during the conflict, which was sparked by his refusal to recognize his defeat by Alassane Ouattara in a 2010 election.
Thousands of Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) members and supporters chanted “Free Gbagbo” and “Affi president” at a rally in the commercial capital Abidjan on Saturday.
Ivory Coast, French-speaking west Africa’s largest economy and the world’s top cocoa grower, has seen a rapid economic revival under Ouattara’s presidency that has turned the heads of foreign investors.
However, in his speech to supporters, N’Guessan focused on the slow pace of national reconciliation and perceived one-sided justice in the wake of the war, issues for which Ouattara has received heavy criticism from rights groups.
“Peace isn’t only the silence of weapons. Can we say that Ivory Coast is in peace when President Gbagbo is in The Hague? With hundreds of political prisoners in jail, Ivory Coast is not in peace,” he said.
Though Ouattara is heavily favored to win re-election, having already secured the first round backing of his main coalition partner, the Democratic Party of Ivory Coast, N’Guessan is likely to be one of his most serious challengers.
The FPI split earlier this year, however, with a hardline faction led by Gbagbo’s former foreign minister Aboudramane Sangare demanding the ex-president’s release before it will consider going to elections.
The FPI has boycotted parliamentary and local elections in the year’s since Gbagbo’s capture by Ouattara’s rebel backers, but many moderate party members fear that sitting out the presidential poll will doom them to irrelevance.
Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams