Defense lawyers for fallen Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo Monday accused his bitter rival President Alassane Ouattara of seizing power by force aided by former colonial ruler France after disputed 2010 elections.
In an opening statement on the third day of Gbagbo's landmark trial on charges of crimes against humanity, defense lawyer Emmanuel Altit sought to unmask what he called a deliberate "smear campaign" against his client.
"Ouattara and his supporters wanted to seize power by force and the battle of Abidjan was, simply put, the very implementation of this strategy," defense lawyer Emmanuel Altit told the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Gbagbo and his co-accused Charles Ble Goude, a firebrand militia leader, have denied four charges of crimes against humanity after 3,000 people were killed after the Ivory Coast vote.
Their highly-anticipated trial opened on Thursday at the court based in The Hague and is set to last three to four years.
Gbagbo declared himself the winner in late 2010, but the major powers including France, the United States as well as the United Nations backed Ouattara, who had snatched a narrow victory.
It led to a bitter standoff, with Gbagbo holed up in the fortified presidential palace and Abidjan -- the country's main city and commercial capital -- turned into a war zone.
"France did not want peace to be negotiated," Altit said.
Then French president Nicolas Sarkozy "had shown unwavering support for his friend Ouattara," another defense lawyer told the court.
Gbagbo became the first ex-head of state to go on trial at the ICC and Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda painted a vivid picture of the turmoil saying "the Ivory Coast descended into chaos and was the theatre of unspeakable violence."
She alleged on Thursday that Gbagbo, aided by the military, police and a youth militia group organised by Ble Goude, had clung to power by "all means necessary".
But Altit countered Monday there had been a deliberate campaign to make Gbagbo "out to be some of kind demon" and "paint Ouattara as the good guy."
"This is nothing more than a political narrative that has been heated up and re-served."