February 1, 2019 / 3:30 PM / 18 days ago

UPDATE 1-Judges set to rule on release of Ivory Coast politician Gbagbo

(Updates after decision scheduled for 1540 GMT)

By Stephanie van den Berg and Toby Sterling

THE HAGUE, Feb 1 (Reuters) - International Criminal Court judges were set to rule on Friday on terms of release for former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, two weeks after he was acquitted on atrocities charges

ICC prosecutors, who contest Gbagbo’s acquittal, mounted a last-ditch attempt to have conditions attached to the release of Gbagbo and co-defendant Charles Ble Goude to ensure they will return to the court if necessary.

Their defence lawyers meanwhile demanded that both men be immediately and unconditionally released.

Trial judges ordered that Gbagbo, the first former head of state to be taken into custody by the ICC, and Ble Goude be freed. But Appeals judges ordered the men remain in detention while they consider arguments from prosecutors.

Prosecutor Helen Brady told appeals judges on Friday that her office was ready to look for a “a less liberty-intrusive” option than continued detention to ensure Gbagbo’s later return.

She said that could mean allowing him to travel to a state close to the Netherlands that supports the international court and is willing to give promises he would be returned if necessary.

After the close of oral arguments, appeals judges met in closed session to discuss what country Gbagbo might go to, and when. They later scheduled a decision for 4.40pm (1540 GMT).

Gbagbo’s family has said he would ultimately like to return to Ivory Coast but intends first to go to Belgium, where he has relatives.

Any return to his homeland would be complicated by the fact that he was handed a 20-year sentence there for embezzlement, after a trial in absentia, in January 2018.

Gbagbo, who ruled Ivory Coast from 2000-2011, has spent seven years in custody in The Hague.

Judges at the trial said the prosecution case linking Gbagbo to election-related violence in 2010 and 2011 in which some 3,000 people were killed was “exceptionally weak” and that it was unlikely the acquittals would be overturned.

Gbagbo’s acquittal on Jan. 15 was deplored by victims’ groups representing those who died in violence during the 2010 election, in which Gbagbo refused to concede defeat his rival Alassane Ouattara.

Hundreds of thousands fled the unrest that prosecutors blamed on Gbagbo and victims fear his return home could revive hostilities in Abidjan. (Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Toby Sterling; Editing by Catherine Evans and Toby Chopra)

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