The former president of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, appears to be returning to his home country for the first time in nearly a decade after being acquitted by the International Criminal CourtBy BISHR EL-TOUNI Associated PressJune 17, 2021, 10:03 AM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleBRUSSELS — The former president of the Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, checked in at Belgium’s main airport on Thursday, his lawyer said, ready to fly to his home country for the first time in nearly a decade after being acquitted by the International Criminal Court.Gbagbo was not seen checking in by waiting media, but lawyer Habiba Toure said that he was finalizing his flight formalities and had headed into the departures area of Brussels airport through a protocol entrance.A small group of Gbagbo supporters had gathered at the airport to see him off.“He was not able to greet his supporters who were here in the airport departure hall because he was taken directly to the protocol lounge. But I believe that he will say a few words to them on his arrival in Abidjan,” Toure said.One supporter, Serge Kassy, said that after a decade in exile “we could not miss this opportunity. It was important to be here to say goodbye, that we are with him and that we will always be with him.”A commercial flight transiting through Felix Houphouet-Boigny International Airport in Ivory Coast’s biggest city, Abidjan, was due to leave at 10:55 am local time (0855 GMT). It departed almost an hour late. It was not possible to independently confirm that Gbagbo was aboard.Gbagbo’s refusal to accept defeat in the 2010 presidential election sparked months of violence that killed at least 3,000 people and brought Ivory Coast to the brink of civil war. He has spent much of the past decade since his arrest in the Netherlands awaiting trial on charges of crimes against humanity.In 2019, the judge said prosecutors had failed to make their case even before the defense lawyers had presented their side. The former president was released from custody but has been living in Belgium pending the outcome of the appeal by ICC prosecutors.Gbagbo’s scheduled return to Ivory Coast on Thursday is galvanizing his supporters, who believe his prosecution was politically motivated. They’ve begun preparations for a festive welcome, with signs bearing the ex-president’s photo on display in parts of Abidjan.Gbagbo appears to be receiving a cautious welcome from Alassane Ouattara, his political rival who won the contested election and has been president ever since. After Gbagbo’s acquittal was upheld, Ouattara said the former president’s travel expenses, and those of his family, would be covered by the state.———Mark Carlson and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.