Ivory Coast’s government was to meet with the party of former president Laurent Gbagbo on Wednesday for talks on what his supporters have announced as his impending return.
In an apparent sign of discord, Communications Minister Amadou Coulibaly said the date of June 17, announced by the party on Monday, had not been previously agreed by the government.
“The date was to be discussed consensually” between the government and Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), he said, adding: “It was not.”
Gbagbo is a highly controversial figure in Ivory Coast, where he was forced out a decade ago after a civil war that claimed several thousand lives.
He was then hauled off to The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity arising from that conflict.
He was acquitted in 2019, and an appeal against that ruling failed in March, opening the way for his return.
Speculation of when that will be has been building for months, and his supporters say they want to welcome him in triumph.
But the government is in favour of a lower profile, wary of potential unrest if tens of thousands of his supporters turn out.
Coulibaly, who is also government spokesman, said that in order to set a date “consensually… arrangements must be implemented,” notably for Gbagbo’s “safety”.
Wednesday’s talks will bring together the minister of national reconciliation, Kouadio Konan Bertin, and the leaders of the FPI, officials said.
Gbagbo’s refusal to concede defeat in presidential elections in 2010 triggered a showdown with victor Alassane Ouattara and dug a deep rift in the country along north-south lines.
The pro-Gbagbo camp is portraying their leader as an elder statesman who can calm political waters that reached storm pitch last year.
Scores of people died in election-related violence after Gbagbo’s erstwhile rival Ouattara announced he would bid for a third term in office — a move that critics said breached the constitution.
Gbagbo’s return will be the start of a “new phase”, FPI secretary-general Assoa Adou said on Monday — “an important phase for the future of Ivory Coast, the phase of reconciliation, peace, the reconstruction of our country”.