Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo entered a not guilty plea Thursday in the opening day of his trial at the International Criminal Court.
Gbagbo, the first former head of state to be tried at The Hague, is facing charges of crimes against humanity, including rape and murder, for his involvement in a protracted post-election battle in 2010 and 2011 that left 3,000 people dead.
Prosecutors say the 70-year-old Gbagbo and his co-defendant, former youth leader Charles Ble Goude, plotted and launched vicious attacks against supporters of his rival, Alassane Ouattara, after Ouattara was declared the winner of the presidential election runoff.
The bloody conflict ended in April 2011 after France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler, sent in troops to restore order and arrest Gbagbo, who was holed up in the presidential palace during the war.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the ICC headquarters before the start of the trial Thursday to show their support for Gbagbo, accusing France of orchestrating his ouster and extradition to The Hague.
Presiding Judge Cuno Tarfusser vowed the ICC would not allow the trial to be used as a political tool "in any way whatsoever."
The ICC also has a warrant for the former president's wife, Simone, on charges of crimes against humanity. She was sentenced last year to a 20-year prison sentence by an Ivorian court.