, The HAGUE, Feb 3 – The first witness in the trial of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo gave a harrowing account Wednesday of coming under fire from troops loyal to the ex-leader during an unarmed march after 2010 polls.
“I was dragging my leg and saw that the bone was sticking out,” the first prosecution witness identified only as P547 told the International Criminal Court.
His face pixellated on television screens and his voice disguised to protect his identity, the man told how he was shot in the leg during a demonstration on December 16, 2010.
He was among thousands of supporters of current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara who marched on a pro-Gbagbo television station in the economic capital of Abidjan following a disputed November, 2010 election.
“We moved towards the (television station) bare-handed. We could not get very close because people were shooting at us,” said the witness, adding he was a long-time Ouattara supporter.
“I ran a bit, fell down, heard a gunshot and fell down again. I saw my leg had been hit,” said the man, a Muslim, who worked at the time as a truck driver.
Ouattara is a Muslim from the north while Gbagbo is a Christian from southern Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer which was an oasis of stability in restive west Africa until 1999 when disgruntled soldiers staged a coup.
That was followed by a low-level civil war in 2002 pitting Gbagbo and Ouattara on opposite sides.
Gbagbo declared himself the winner of the 2010 elections, but major powers including France, the former colonial power, the United States and the United Nations backed Ouattara, who had snatched a narrow victory.
The row triggered a bitter standoff that saw Gbagbo holed up in the fortified presidential palace and Abidjan turned into a war zone.
Gbagbo and his former militia chief, Charles Ble Goude, deny four charges of crimes against humanity arising out of the violence which left 3,000 dead.
At the demonstration, the witness told how soldiers arrived and threw injured protesters into the back of a truck.
The soldiers “asked me what I was doing,” said, the card-carrying member of Ouattara’s RDR party, speaking through an interpreter in his native Jula language.
“I answered: ‘We are marching. We voted and we want justice’.”
The soldiers then started to beat him saying the officer had “told them to beat me to death.”
The soldiers eventually left and asked “shall we kill him?” but were told “no, this guy is nearly dead, he won’t last.”
He was eventually given first aid by a Red Cross team, P547 said.