A man accused of leading a youth militia behind a wave of ethnic killings in Ivory Coast denied all charges against him at the International Criminal Court on Thursday, saying he was a "polite person" who campaigned for peace.
Prosecutors at the Hague-based tribunal say Charles Ble Goude led the "Young Patriot" force in brutal attacks that swept the West African country after his ally and fellow ICC indictee Laurent Gbagbo lost a presidential election in 2010.
Around 3,000 people died in the conflict that erupted after Gbagbo refused to accept his defeat to Alassane Ouattara in a runoff vote.
Ble Goude, charged with crimes against humanity and other offenses, denied he had ever preached hate or incited people to violence, saying that television clips prosecutors had shown of him were misleading.
"Where are the recordings of hatred in which I said 'go and kill Ouattara supporters?" he asked during a hearing on Thursday. "Can they identify a video in which I asked people to go and kill Muslims or members of a particular ethnic group?"
Ble Goude, who was arrested in Ghana and transferred to The Hague last year, told judges at the world's permanent war crimes court his speeches to young people at peaceful rallies had opposed bloodshed.
"War destroys families," he said. "I prefer to be weak and alive than strong and among the dead. I have said this many times and people have laughed at me for it." Ble Goude, who acknowledges leading what he called a peaceful youth group, the Congrès Panafricain des Jeunes et des Patriotes, said he was not responsible for the behavior of all the people in the vast crowds that listened to his speeches.
"I am a polite person," he said. "I don't drive people away from rallies."
Prosecutors say Ble Goude conspired with Gbagbo and others to commit atrocities on a "massive scale". But Ble Goude's lawyers say the Young Patriot movement was a creation of the media and have accused the court of political bias in favor of Ouattara, a former IMF official who has sought to kick-start the economy of the world's top cocoa grower.
Gbagbo, captured at the end of the fighting in April 2011 by French and U.N.-backed fighters supporting Ouattara, has been in the ICC's custody since November 2011 and is awaiting trial on charges of being responsible for rapes, murders, persecution and inhuman acts.