Ivory Coast president frees prisoners held over post-vote violence


ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara announced Thursday in his New Year’s address that he had reduced the sentences of 3,100 prisoners held over bloody post-election unrest. Around 3,000 people died in five months of violence in 2010-2011 in the west African nation following elections that saw Ouattara unseat then President Laurent Gbagbo.

The crisis erupted after the strongman leader refused to concede defeat, sparking months of violence that eventually drew in international troops. “I have decided to use my right of clemency to grant full and partial sentence reductions,” Ouattara said. “This decision will allow thousands of inmates to get their freedom back and for others to see their terms shortened,” he added. “It concerns a total of 3,100 people.” He did not give a breakdown of how many prisoners would go free immediately and how many would remain behind bars. Campaigners cautiously welcomed the announcement. “Ordinary prisoners will be pardoned but for political prisoners, that grace does not solve the problem,” said Seri Gouagnon, a Gbagbo supporter.

“The most important thing is that he follows through on the announcement,” Desiree Douati, the head of a group that represents the families of those in prison in Ivory Coast, AFFDO-CI, told AFP. Ouattara, a former economist, won a second five-year term by a landslide in October in the nation’s first peaceful vote in more than a decade. He has been credited with reviving the economy of the war-scarred country, the world’s leading cocoa producer, investing in huge infrastructure projects that have helped raise annual growth to around 9 percent. Gbagbo, who was eventually defeated by pro-Ouattara forces backed by the U.N. and France, is now awaiting trial before the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The 2010-2011 crisis was a bloody epilogue to a decade of upheaval, splitting west Africa’s economic powerhouse between a rebel-held north and a loyalist south.