ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in Ivory Coast on Monday after politician Guillaume Soro’s flight home was instead diverted to Ghana and several of his associates were arrested on unspecified charges.
Soro, a one-time rebel leader who served as Ivory Coast’s prime minister from 2007 to 2012, already has announced his intention to run for president in next year’s pivotal elections.
He had planned to return to Ivory Coast on Monday after more than six months abroad. Conflicting reports emerged as to why his private flight instead landed in Accra, Ghana. Ivorian aviation officials insisted that it was Soro himself who requested the diversion.
The developments came as several of Soro’s associates were taken into custody by security forces following a news conference in Abidjan, and supporters feared the same would happen to Soro. Police used tear gas to disperse protesters who took to the streets late Monday.
“Arresting Soro won’t resolve the problem, the crisis in Ivory Coast,” said Soro supporter Bernard Koffi. “On the contrary, it makes the crisis worse, because we don’t know what wrong he is supposed to have done.
Ivory Coast erupted into civil war in 2002 and remained divided into a rebel-controlled north and loyalist south until a 2007 peace deal.
Soro and his allies then helped President Alassane Ouattara come to power when then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down during the violent 2010-2011 election that left more than 3,000 people dead.
However, Soro has distanced himself from Ouattara’s party ahead of the 2020 presidential election, becoming the first candidate to publicly declare his intentions to run under the banner of his party, Générations et Peuples Solidaires, or GPS.
Ouattara was believed to be serving his final term but has recently indicated he might consider seeking a third term if Gbagbo decided to run.