Pardon possible for I.Coast's 'Iron Lady' Gbagbo

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Ivorian former first lady Simone Gbagbo waves as she arrives at the Court of Justice in Abidjan for her trial for "attempting to undermine the security of the state" in events leading to a bloody 2010-2011 post electoral crisis, February 23, 2015

Ivorian former first lady Simone Gbagbo waves as she arrives at the Court of Justice in Abidjan for her trial for "attempting to undermine the security of the state" in events leading to a bloody 2010-2011 post electoral crisis, February 23, 2015 (AFP Photo/Issouf Sanogo)

Abidjan (AFP) - Ivory Coast may pardon former first lady Simone Gbagbo in a gesture of national reconciliation after she was sentenced to 20 years behind bars Tuesday over deadly post-election violence.

With her husband -- ex-president Laurent Gbagbo -- still awaiting trial on crimes against humanity charges, and no rival leaders prosecuted over 2010-2011 violence that killed nearly 3,000 people, Simone Gbagbo's hefty sentence has provoked complaints the verdict smacked of "victor's justice".

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara raised the possibility of a pardon in January, as Simone Gbagbo's trial was under way for "undermining state security".

"Once the verdict is in, obviously the head of state has a certain amount of authority in terms of pardons and amnesty to propose to the National Assembly," he said.

And a source close to Ouattara told AFP Tuesday: "The president said it, he will do it."

Discussions have already been held between the government and the pro-Gbagbo Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) about granting the former first lady some type of amnesty, said FPI leader Alphonse Douati.

Simone Gbagbo, 65, and 82 fellow defendants were accused of playing roles in violence that broke out in Abidjan when 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, Ouattara, but some of his backers are equally accused of atrocities.

Until now no pro-Ouattara leaders have been prosecuted or investigated for their roles in the violence, raising accusations that the trial of Simone Gbagbo was an example of "victor's justice."


- 'Democracy does not exist' -


"What is the purpose of sentencing someone to 20 years in prison as we extol reconciliation?" asked defence lawyer Mathurin Dirabou.

"Now, if Mr Ouattara takes himself for a Caesar, who can raise or lower his thumb to save a convict, it's his problem," said another of the ex-first lady's lawyers Habiba Toure.

"This shows that democracy does not exist in Ivory Coast, where the criminal justice system is being exploited," she added.

Ivory Coast, however, has refused to extradite Simone Gbagbo to face charges of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, where her husband is awaiting trial on similar allegations.

The government has declined to transfer her over concerns about the impact it could have on national reconciliation.

"The Ivorian government should fulfil its legal obligation and transfer Simone Gbagbo to the ICC," said Human Rights Watch.

It noted the case in Ivory Coast was not carried out "in accordance with the standards of a fair trial."


- 'Humiliation upon humiliation' -


Order is high on the minds of leaders as the west African nation is seven months away from an October presidential election seen as a key test of Ivory Coast's return to stability.

Dubbed the nation's "Iron Lady," Gbagbo was accused of playing a part in directing death squads that ran amok in the weeks after the disputed 2010 vote.

"Simone Gbagbo most certainly participated in the composition of armed gangs," state prosecutor Simon Yabo Odi told the court. "Her men... participated in an insurrectional movement."

She told the court that she forgave her accusers.

"I have suffered humiliation upon humiliation during this trial.

"But I am ready to forgive... because if we do not forgive, the country faces a crisis worse than what we experienced."

She also said she did not "know exactly what the concrete actions are that I am being accused of", and insisted her husband had legitimately won the 2010 election.

The post-ballot violence was halted by the intervention of international forces acting under a UN mandate and led by former colonial power France.

The Gbagbo couple were arrested in April 2011 and the former first lady was taken into custody in the north of the west African country, where she testified she was "beaten with incredible violence".