ICC issues warrant for ICoast ex-leader Gbagbo's wife

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The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo's wife Simone, accusing her of being his "alter ego" in orchestrating a campaign of election violence almost two years ago in which 3,000 people died.

The warrant on four counts of crimes against humanity was issued in February but only made public by the court on Thursday and is the first issued by the ICC for a woman.

Simone is accused of "crimes against humanity, of murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhumane acts" committed during the 2010-2011 post-election crisis, the court said.

The bloody stand-off came after Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara both claimed victory in the much-delayed November 2010 presidential election.

The court said that the violence was committed as part of a "common plan... and that Mr Gbagbo's inner circle, to which Ms Gbagbo belonged, met frequently to discuss the implementation and coordination of the plan."

"Although not elected, Ms Gbagbo acted as an alter ego for her husband, exercising the power to make State decisions," the court said.

The crimes during the ethnically-tinged conflict were carried out by the Ivorian army, as well as youth militias and mercenaries loyal to Gbagbo, who is himself awaiting trial at the ICC, the court said.

Simone Gbagbo expressed public support for the plan "and instructed the pro-Gbagbo forces to commit crimes against individuals who posed a threat to her husband's power," it said.

She "made a coordinated and essential contribution" to the realisation of the plan, the ICC said.

The crimes were committed in commercial capital Abidjan, around the country and around the Golf Hotel in Abidjan where Ouattara was then besieged by forces loyal to Gbagbo.

"They targeted civilians who they believed were supporters of Alassane Ouattara, and the attacks were often directed at specific ethnic or religious communities," the court said.

Simone Gbagbo, 63, on November 13 started testifying in her trial in Odienne, the town in north-west Ivory Coast where she has been detained for the last year-and-a-half, on charges including genocide and embezzlement.

Her party, the Ivorian Popular Front, on Thursday denounced the warrant issued against her by the ICC as "unjust".

"This warrant is as unjust as the one that allowed the ICC to imprison Laurent Gbagbo," Richard Kodjo, the party's secretary general, told AFP in Abidjan.

In all, eight Gbagbo allies have been charged with genocide, and dozens of people who served under the former regime are in jail.

There was no indication that Ivory Coast was about to hand Simone over, but her husband was handed over almost a year ago immediately after the ICC made public his arrest warrant.

Laurent is also facing charges of four counts of crimes against humanity in The Hague, including murder, rape and inhuman acts, over the post-election violence the UN said cost about 3,000 lives.

Earlier this month, international judges found Gbagbo was fit enough to stand trial but that his health may require special measures.

The ICC appointed three doctors in June to examine the former strongman at the request of his lawyers who said he was tortured during his detention last year by forces loyal to Ouattara.

Judges are now to set a date for a much-delayed confirmation of charges hearing.

The 67-year-old was arrested in April last year by followers of long-time rival Ouattara after French and UN forces cleared the way for them to enter his Abidjan palace.

He was the first head of state to be handed over to the ICC.