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Ivory Coast Eases Oppo Punishment

FILE: Then-Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, left, and opposition presidential candidate Alassane Ouattara pose together for photographers at the Presidential Palace in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2008.

ABIDJAN - Twenty-six supporters of Ivory Coast's former president Laurent Gbagbo who received two-year jail terms following an anti-government protest have been given suspended sentences on appeal.

Thirty-one people were arrested after the February 24 protest in support of Damana Pickass, secretary general of the African Peoples' Party (PPA-CI), who is under investigation for his alleged role in an attack on an Abidjan barracks in 2021.

Of these, 26 were handed two-year terms on March 9 for breaching public order -- a sentence that had triggered criticism from Amnesty International.

The sentences were reduced late Wednesday to suspended two-year terms.

Defense attorney Sylvain Tapi said the decision was "a relief - it was a deeply unjust situation to see them in prison."

Their arrest and hefty sentences had triggered tensions in the West African state, which is struggling to emerge from political turbulence.

In 2011, a brief but bloody civil war erupted, claiming some 3,000 lives, when then-president Gbagbo refused to step down after losing elections to Alassane Ouattara.

A crisis erupted again in 2020, when Ouattara won a third presidential term in contested elections that led to 85 deaths.

But legislative polls the following year passed off calmly, and the mood was helped when Gbagbo returned home after being acquitted on human rights charges by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

After his return, Gbagbo quit the party he had founded, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), and launched the PPA-CI, a left-wing pan-African group.