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Ivory Coast's former president Gbagbo attends Mass in public

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has made one of his first public appearances since returning home after nearly a decade in exile, attending Mass on Sunday as residents of his hometown made preparations for his visit.

Gbagbo, who was acquitted of crimes against humanity two years ago at the International Criminal Court, showed up at St. Paul Cathedral in Abidjan, where he was greeted by Cardinal Jean Pierre Kutwa.

The ex-president returned to Ivory Coast on Thursday after the government allowed his return. Earlier this year, the ICC upheld his acquittal on charges related to the post-electoral violence that engulfed Ivory Coast after its 2010 president election.

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, left, points out as he attends a Mass at the Saint Paul's cathedral in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sunday, June 20, 2021. Gbagbo, who has returned to the country after nearly a decade, was extradited to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2011 and spent eight years awaiting trial on war crimes charges. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case. (AP PhotoLeo Correa)

Gbagbo, the incumbent leader, refused to acknowledge defeat to Alassane Ouattara, sparking months of clashes between their supporters that left more than 3,000 people dead. Ouattara ultimately prevailed and has been the president of Ivory Coast ever since.

Some victims' groups have expressed dismay over his homecoming, saying that Ivorian authorities should now try him for his role in the conflict.

However, in his hometown of Mama over the weekend, jubilant supporters began making preparations in hopes that Gbagbo will soon pay the community a visit and visit his mother's grave. On Saturday, dozens of supporters gathered just a few blocks from Gbagbo’s house in Mama, where they sang and danced to celebrate his return to Ivory Coast.

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo holds up a rosary beads during a Mass at the Saint Paul's cathedral in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sunday, June 20, 2021. Gbagbo, who has returned to the country after nearly a decade, was extradited to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2011 and spent eight years awaiting trial on war crimes charges. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case. (AP PhotoLeo Correa)

Many said they hoped Gbagbo could now help the country overcome the current economic crisis and high unemployment rates exacerbated by the pandemic.

"Now that Gbagbo is back, we know that we are going to work,” said Lefri Sabrine, who hails from the same village as the ex-president's late mother.

Associated Press journalist Yesica Fisch in Mama, Ivory Coast contributed.

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, center right, attends a Mass at the Saint Paul's cathedral in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sunday, June 20, 2021. Gbagbo, who has returned to the country after nearly a decade, was extradited to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2011 and spent eight years awaiting trial on war crimes charges. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case. (AP PhotoLeo Correa)

Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa, right, holds up an rosary beads before giving it to the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, left, during a Mass at the Saint Paul's cathedral in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sunday, June 20, 2021. Gbagbo, who has returned to the country after nearly a decade, was extradited to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2011 and spent eight years awaiting trial on war crimes charges. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case. (AP PhotoLeo Correa)

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, right bottom, waves to the people during a Mass at the Saint Paul's cathedral in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sunday, June 20, 2021. Gbagbo, who has returned to the country after nearly a decade, was extradited to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2011 and spent eight years awaiting trial on war crimes charges. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case. (AP PhotoLeo Correa)

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, left, greets the Cardinal Jean-Pierre Kutwa during a Mass at the Saint Paul's cathedral in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sunday, June 20, 2021. Gbagbo, who has returned to the country after nearly a decade, was extradited to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in 2011 and spent eight years awaiting trial on war crimes charges. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case. (AP PhotoLeo Correa)

Women pause for lunch as they take part in a celebration for the return of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Mama, Ivory Coast, Saturday, June 19, 2021. The town's residents and people from other villages say that they will keep celebrating every day until Gbagbo arrives in his hometown. After nearly a decade, the ex-president returned to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges that was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. (AP PhotoLeo Correa)

A woman prepares traditional food known as alloco, fried bananas, to sell on the street during a celebration for the return of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Mama, Ivory Coast, Saturday, June 19, 2021. The town's residents and people from other villages say that they will keep celebrating every day until Gbagbo arrives in his hometown. After nearly a decade, the ex-president returned to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges that was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. (AP PhotoLeo Correa)

People take part in a celebration for the return of the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo in Mama, Ivory Coast, Saturday, June 19, 2021. The town's residents and people from other villages say that they will keep celebrating every day until Gbagbo arrives in his hometown. After nearly a decade, the ex-president returned to his country after his acquittal on war crimes charges that was upheld at the International Criminal Court earlier this year. (AP PhotoLeo Correa)