Famous, or infamous, French lawyers defend Gbagbo

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Two famous French lawyers -- one of them best known for defending Nazi Klaus Barbie -- came to Ivory Coast on Thursday to support isolated strongman Laurent Gbagbo.

Roland Dumas, a former foreign minister who was tried and acquitted in one of France's longest-running political corruption trials, said the pair had met Gbagbo and were studying the situation in Ivory Coast.

He was joined by Jacques Verges, notorious for defending Barbie, a Gestapo officer known as the "Butcher of Lyon", and for his association with terror kingpin Carlos the Jackal and Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

"We're going to draw up a report and then we are going to defend the current authorities," said 88-year-old Dumas, speaking to reporters in Abidjan after the pair's meeting with Gbagbo, who is under pressure to step down.

Verges said Gbagbo had become a symbol of a "new Africa, one that does not bow its head... and that's what French leaders cannot tolerate."

The United Nations has recognised Gbagbo's long-time rival Alassane Ouattara as winner of last month's Ivorian presidential election, but the incumbent has refused to step down, claiming he is the victim of a French-led plot.

UN human rights monitors estimate that at least 179 people have been killed in the resulting political standoff, many of them in attacks by Gbagbo's forces and allied militias, and world powers have demanded he step down.

Ouattara has called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the crisis, and the UN peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast says it is collecting evidence of atrocities that could lead to future prosecutions.

© 2010 AFP

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