The Hague - Ivory Coast ex-strongman Laurent Gbagbo will stay behind bars until at least February despite his acquittal on charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal court, the tribunal said Friday.
Judges in the Hague cleared Gbagbo and his right-hand man Charles Ble Goude on Tuesday over a wave of violence after disputed elections in 2010. The crisis claimed around 3,000 lives.
But the 73-year-old's hopes of an emotional homecoming to Abidjan after seven years in jail have been dashed by a last-minute request by ICC prosecutors to keep him detained.
The prosecution said there was a "concrete risk" Gbagbo -- the first national leader to stand trial at the ICC -- would fail to return to the court if it later overturned Tuesday's decision to acquit them.
"The detention of Mr Laurent Gbagbo and Mr Charles Ble Goude shall be maintained pending the consideration of the present appeal" against his release, the ICC's appeals judges said in a statement.
They will hold a fresh hearing on February 1 "in order to hear further submissions on the appeal", although they did not say when they would reach a decision.
Gbagbo and Ble Goude could then be freed unconditionally as judges ordered on Tuesday, released on condition that he does not go to Ivory Coast, or kept in jail.
Gbagbo's daughter said this week -- during what turned out to be premature celebrations outside the ICC -- that he intended to return to the Ivory Coast if released.
- 2020 elections -
The pair had been on trial for two years over violence in Ivory Coast after Gbagbo refused to concede defeat in an election to bitter rival and now-president Alassane Ouattara.
Atrocities were allegedly committed on both sides as the bloodshed turned Abidjan into a war zone and destabilised the African economic powerhouse, the world's largest cocoa-producing nation.
Gbagbo was captured in 2011 by Ouattara's troops, aided by UN and French forces, and sent to stand trial at the International Criminal Court.
However judges stopped the trial midway citing an "exceptionally weak" prosecution case and ordered his immediate release.
The case was a severe blow for ICC prosecutors after similar failures with former DR Congo warlord Jean-Pierre Bemba in 2018 and Kenyan leader Uhuru Kenyatta in 2014.
Stung by the decision, ICC prosecutors said they would appeal the acquittal and called for Gbagbo and Ble Goude to stay in detention.
ICC prosecutors cited the case of Gbagbo's wife Simone as an example of why he is a flight risk, saying that despite an outstanding ICC warrant for her arrest, the Ivorian government has not surrendered her.
The delay in Gbagbo's release at least puts off for now the political uncertainty over his possible return.
His acquittal comes at a sensitive time with Ivory Coast facing fresh elections in 2020 to elect a successor to Ouattara, who has said he will not stand for re-election after serving two five-year terms.
While preaching "reconciliation", Ouattara's government would only say this week that it was Gbagbo's choice about whether he returned to Ivory Coast.
Gbagbo also faces a 20-year prison term in his homeland for "economic crimes", although his wife Simone was last August granted an amnesty by Ouattara for a similar sentence.AFP