Ivorian opposition figure gets 6-month jail term

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 31, 2012 1:15 PM
Ivorian opposition figure gets 6-month jail term

By Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - A court in Ivory Coast sentenced the number two of former president Laurent Gbagbo's political party to six months in prison on Friday, finding him guilty of disturbing the peace following a trial his lawyers claimed was politically motivated.

A series of armed attacks on army and police installations this month has killed around 20 people, mainly soldiers, raising fears of renewed instability a year after a civil war in the world's top cocoa grower killed over 3,000 people.

President Alassane Ouattara's government blames the violence on Gbagbo's backers and has arrested a number of people including leading members of Gbagbo's FPI party.

Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court charged with crimes against humanity committed during last year's war, which erupted after he refused to recognize Ouattara's victory in an election in late 2010.

Most of his leading political and military allies are either in jail in Ivory Coast or living in exile after fleeing the country at the end of the war.

Laurent Akoun, who remained in Ivory Coast and became the party's secretary-general, was arrested last week.

"The tribunal...declares Laurent Akoun guilty of the charges against him and condemns him to six months in prison and a one-year forfeiture of rights," judge Braman Kone said at the end of the five-hour trial in the commercial capital Abidjan.

The lead prosecutor had requested the maximum sentence of five years.

The charge of disturbing the peace stemmed from a speech Akoun gave to militants, excerpts of which were published in a pro-Gbagbo newspaper on August 4.

"Ouattara wanted to kill (Gbagbo)...Rise up, because our comrades could die. They are in the waiting room of death...You must rise up to continue the fight," the Notre Voie newspaper quoted Akoun as telling party members.

The first in a month-long raft of attacks occurred the day after the excerpts were published.

Akoun said during the trial that the speech included figurative political rhetoric and was not intended to result in violence.

"The trial was more political than judicial," Martial Gahoua, Akoun's lawyer, told Reuters following the judgment.

"We will discuss with our client and see if we need to appeal," he said.

The FPI has denied any involvement in the recent attacks and on Thursday accused Ouattara's government of using the recent attacks as a pretext to crackdown on the opposition.

Ivorian authorities have also arrested Alphonse Douati, the FPI's deputy secretary-general and a former minister, and charged him with threatening state security.

Former budget minister Justin Kone Katinan, one of about two dozen exiled Gbagbo allies targeted by international warrants, was arrested in Ghana last weekend. He appeared in court in Ghana's capital Accra on Friday, but the hearing was delayed until next week to allow the judge more time to review the case.

Ghanaian officials are considering whether or not to lift Katinan's status as a political refugee and extradite him to Ivory Coast.

(Additional reporting by Kwasi Kpodo in Accra; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Michael Roddy)