THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A former youth leader accused of involvement in murder, rapes and persecution during violence after Ivory Coast's 2010 elections declared his innocence Thursday as he appeared for the first time at the International Criminal Court.
Charles Ble Goude looked confident, pumping his fist, waving and blowing a kiss to supporters in the public gallery at the brief hearing, the first since Ivory Coast authorities handed him over to the court in The Hague last week.
The 42-year-old was not required to enter pleas to four crimes-against-humanity charges, but told Judge Silvia Fernandez "I am wrongly accused."
Violence that erupted after Ivory Coast's 2010 disputed presidential election left some 3,000 people dead.
Human rights groups say Ble Goude's youth group — the Young Patriots — played a decisive role in creating a climate of terror during the postelection violence, erecting barricades and checkpoints where an untold number of West African nationals were killed, many by being "necklaced" with tires that were then set on fire.
Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo also is in the court's detention unit. Gbagbo faces charges of involvement in atrocities carried out by his supporters after the election that saw him ousted from office.
Until Gbagbo was forced from power in April 2011, Ble Goude held regular rallies where he used increasingly xenophobic rhetoric, which many believe incited his supporters to violence — claims that he has denied. He spent nearly two years in hiding before he was arrested in Ghana last year.
His lawyer, Nick Kaufmann, told the court he would seek to have Ble Goude released from jail pending further developments in the case.
The court set Aug. 18 as the date for a hearing at which judges must decide whether prosecutors' evidence is strong enough to merit a trial.