I. Coast 'Iron lady' Gbagbo appeals 20-year sentence

Abidjan (AFP) - Ex-Ivory Coast first lady Simone Gbagbo has appealed the 20-year term she got for her role in post-election violence that killed over 3,000 people, her lawyer announced Monday.

"We lodged an appeal in the highest court," said defence counsel Habiba Toure. "The procedure is irregular and must be nullified."

In a surprise decision prosecutors, who had argued Gbagbo should be given 10 years behind bars for her part in the bloody 2010-2011 unrest, announced that they too had lodged an appeal.

"The public prosecutor's office has filed an appeal," prosecuting attorney Simon Yabo Odi told AFP, without giving precise grounds for the decision to take the case to the Court of Cassation.

However, Odi rejected any change to the prison term handed down March 10 to Gbagbo, 65, who was jailed by an Assize Court for "undermining state security."

Ivorian law makes no provision for an appeal against the verdict of an Assize Court in criminal cases.

However, it is possible to turn to the High Court of Cassation for a ruling on the validity of a sentence on the basis of legal procedure, rather than evidence raised during trial.

Gbagbo and 78 fellow defendants were accused of playing roles in the violence that broke out in the country's economic capital Abidjan when her husband Laurent Gbagbo refused to admit defeat in the December 2010 election.

The vanquished leadership allegedly used brutal militias to attack supporters of the declared winner of the poll, President Alassane Ouattara, but some of his backers are equally accused of atrocities.

- Crimes against humanity -

A pardon is still possible for Simone Gbagbo, with a source close to Ouattara telling AFP last week the president "will do it."

For the defence, Toure said that "the sentence is based on facts that were not established. There is no doubt that we should have seen an acquittal."

Gbagbo was tried and sentenced in "violation of the immunity" she enjoyed as a member of parliament during five months of post-electoral bloodshed mainly in Abidjan, Toure added.

When the former first lady took the stand in the Assize Court on February 23, her legal team called for an end to the proceedings since her parliamentary immunity had "never been lifted".

The court turned down the request, declaring itself incompetent to make a ruling.

Simone Gbagbo had been elected an MP for Abidjan's Abobo district in 2000. She sat in the National Assembly until the fall of her husband in April 2011, when her he was arrested by forces backing his rival Ouattara.

The regime in power today refuses to recognise the make-up of the National Assembly during the post-electoral strife, but in December 2011 Ouattara's Rally of Republicans won almost half of the parliamentary seats in a poll boycotted by Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front.

The toppled president Gbagbo has for three years been detained by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where he faces trial for crimes against humanity.

Simone Gbagbo is wanted by the court on similar charges, but Ivory Coast has refused to hand her over for fear it could jeopardise the country's efforts at reconciliation.