Court orders conditional release of ex-Ivory Coast leader

In this Wednesday Jan. 16, 2019, file image supporters of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo celebrate outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Prosecutors at the ICC have told judges they do not object to the conditional release of Ivory Coast's former president and youth minister following their acquittals last month on charges of involvement in deadly post-election violence. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
In this Jan. 15, 2019, file image, former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo enters the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court are listening to legal arguments Friday Feb. 1, 2019, on whether to immediately release former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and former Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude following their acquittal last month on charges of involvement in deadly violence that erupted following their country's disputed 2010 presidential election. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)
In this Wednesday Jan. 16, 2019, file image supporters of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo celebrate outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Prosecutors at the ICC have told judges they do not object to the conditional release of Ivory Coast's former president and youth minister following their acquittals last month on charges of involvement in deadly post-election violence. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
In this Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 image, former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo waits for the start of his trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court are listening to legal arguments Friday Feb. 1, 2019, on whether to immediately release former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and former Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude following their acquittal last month on charges of involvement in deadly violence that erupted following their country's disputed 2010 presidential election. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)
In this Wednesday Jan. 16, 2019, file image supporters of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo celebrate outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Prosecutors at the ICC have told judges they do not object to the conditional release of Ivory Coast's former president and youth minister following their acquittals last month on charges of involvement in deadly post-election violence. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2019, file photo, supporters of former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo celebrate outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, after judges ruled that Gbagbo and a former government minister should be released immediately following their acquittal on charges of involvement in deadly post-election violence in 2010. The acquittal at the International Criminal Court is causing some to celebrate his pending release but others fear a repeat of the deadly 2010-2011 post-election violence that led him to The Hague. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
FILE - In this April 11, 2011 file photo, former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, center, and his wife Simone, are seen in the custody of republican forces loyal to election winner Alassane Ouattara, at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. A defense lawyer for Gbagbo said Friday Feb.1, 2019 that he should be immediately and unconditionally released from International Criminal Court detention, more than two weeks after his acquittal on charges of involvement in deadly post-election violence.(AP Photo/Aristide Bodegla, File)
In this Tuesday Jan. 15, 2019, file image, Eric Macdonald, lead prosecutor in the case against former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo looks at computer screens in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court are listening to legal arguments Friday Feb. 1, 2019, on whether to immediately release former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo and former Youth Minister Charles Ble Goude following their acquittal last month on charges of involvement in deadly violence that erupted following their country's disputed 2010 presidential election. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, Pool)
Supporters of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo celebrate outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands Friday Feb.1, 2019. International Criminal Court judges ordered the conditional release Friday of Ivory Coast's ex-president and a former youth minister, more than two weeks after they were acquitted of involvement in deadly violence that erupted after their country's 2010 election. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — International Criminal Court judges ordered the conditional release Friday of Ivory Coast's ex-president and a former youth minister, more than two weeks after they were acquitted of involvement in deadly violence that erupted after their country's 2010 election.

Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said that former President Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Ble Goude should be freed but did not immediately give details of the conditions they imposed "to protect the integrity of the process."

Gbagbo, who smiled broadly and waved to supporters in the court's gallery after the ruling, was not immediately released. Eboe-Osuji instructed court officials to identify a country willing to accept Gbagbo and Ble Goude and to look into "interim measures" that could be taken in the meantime.

Gbagbo has been in custody at the court since November 2011. Ble Goude was jailed nearly five years ago.

Jubilant supporters danced and chanted "Released!" in French outside the court.

"We are very happy for Mr. Ble Goude and his family that he's finally released," his lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops told reporters at the court. He said Ble Goude likely would be released Friday evening, but it was not clear where or when.

Prosecution lawyers had urged judges to release the men only with conditions to ensure they return to the court for their appeals phase. Defense lawyers had urged their immediate, unconditional release.

Gbagbo's lawyer, Emmanuel Altit, told judges: "His innocence has been recognized by the judges and it is impossible to limit the freedom of an innocent person."

Trial judges at first ordered the immediate release of Gbagbo and Ble Goude after their Jan. 15 acquittals, but they have remained jailed amid wrangling over whether judges should impose conditions on their freedom or even keep them in detention if it proved impossible to release them with conditions.

That did not stop supporters in Ivory Coast hailing Gbagbo as "the messiah," with some mentioning a possible presidential run in 2020. However, Gbagbo may not feel safe to return to his home country just yet.

He still faces an international arrest warrant issued against him by Ivory Coast's government after being convicted in absentia last year for misappropriating funds from the West African Central Bank. He faces a possible 20-year prison sentence.

In August, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who defeated Gbagbo in the disputed vote in 2010, granted a general amnesty to 800 people, including Gbagbo's wife, Simone, for their roles in the violence that left more than 3,000 people dead. The amnesty, however, did not specify whether it applied to the former president.

The acquittals of Gbagbo and Ble Goude were the latest setback for the international court.

The case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who also was accused of involvement — before he became president — in postelection violence in his country, collapsed in December 2014. Last year a former Congolese vice president, Jean-Pierre Bemba, was acquitted on appeal of crimes allegedly committed by his militia in neighboring Central African Republic.

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