The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for ousted Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, his lawyer said, and Gbagbo's adviser said his transfer to the Hague court could come within hours.
The court is investigating killings, rapes and other abuses committed during a four-month conflict triggered by Gbagbo's refusal to cede power to Alassane Ouattara after last year's election. Ouattara's French-backed forces deposed him in April.
They (Ivorian justice authorities) showed him the arrest warrant this morning, Gbagbo's lawyer Lucie Bourthoumieux said by telephone from France on Tuesday, questioning the competence of the ICC to try Gbagbo.
Gbagbo's Paris-based adviser Toussaint Alain said court officials were already at Gbagbo's place of detention in the northern Ivory Coast town of Korhogo seeking to prepare a transfer in the coming hours.
I condemn ... this victor's justice, he added in an emailed statement.
In the Netherlands, an ICC spokesman said it could not comment.
Gbagbo's capture in April ended a civil war that killed 3,000 people and displaced more than a million.
A decision to try Gbagbo at the ICC would be all the more controversial for many Ivorians after ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo this month said Libya could try Muammar Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam at home. The ICC this year issued an arrest warrant for Saif al-Islam for crimes against humanity.
The climate in Ivory Coast is already tense, with Gbagbo's FPI party boycotting legislative polls next month in protest at the detention of FPI officials in connection with alleged crimes committed during the conflict.
Like his election loss, Gbagbo's indictment should prove divisive, although militiamen who backed him during the poll dispute have largely fled, been disarmed or are in hiding, so are unlikely to be in a position to cause much trouble.
This is a very serious deed by the ICC, wanting to transfer Gbagbo. It is a serious deed that Ivorians will not accept, Gbagbo's spokesman Justin Kone Katinan said in Ivory Coast.
The ICC plans to focus on two to six people thought most responsible for atrocities, the prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo said during a visit to the country last month.
He stressed the court would only investigate crimes going back to the election, the first round of which was last October, and not those committed earlier, during the crisis that followed a failed 2002 rebellion against Gbagbo that split the country. Gbagbo's camp have rejected that time limit as unfair.
Moreno-Ocampo has so far been deprived of some of his biggest targets.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the ICC on charges of orchestrating genocide in Darfur region, has travelled to countries including ICC member states Malawi, Chad, Kenya and Djibouti in the past without being arrested.
Gbagbo's lawyer Bourthoumieux said Ivory Coast had not ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC, meaning the court was not competent to judge him. However the ICC says Ivory Coast accepted its jurisdiction in February 2005.
She said she would fight his transfer on the grounds of violation of procedure, because officials from the prosecutor's office were sent this week to check on his condition and were not supposed to be issuing a warrant.
The ICC is going against a report by the U.N. high representative for human rights ... which said Gbagbo does not threaten Ivory Coast's stability so does not need to be transferred, she added.
If it is true that he was the one who ordered these crimes, then he should pay for them, Ferdinand Ahiba, a teacher, told Reuters TV in Abidjan's palm-lined streets.
The ICC is currently handling 11 cases, including the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya, alleged war crimes committed in the Central African Republic, and Sudan's Darfur region.
(Additional reporting by Mark John in Dakar, Tim Cocks in Abidjan, Svebor Kranjc in the Netherlands; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Roche)