News / Africa

Detained Gbagbo Calls for End to Ivory Coast Fighting

Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo after being arrested, April 11, 2011
Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo after being arrested, April 11, 2011

Ivory Coast's former president is calling for an end to fighting after he was captured on Monday by forces backing the country's president-elect.  

Former president Laurent Gbagbo is calling on his supporters to lay down their weapons so the country's political crisis can come to a swift end and life can return to normal.

Mr. Gbagbo says "the fighting is over," so that is why he asked his chief of staff to "go out with a white handkerchief."  Mr. Gbagbo spoke on a television station run by President-elect Alasssane Ouattara, hours after he was arrested by Mr. Ouattara's fighters.

French forces surrounded Mr. Gbagbo's compound, but they say they did not enter the underground bunker where Mr. Ouattara's fighters captured the former president, gave him a bullet-proof jacket and helmet, and then took him, his wife, and his son into custody.

Mr. Gbagbo is being held at Mr. Ouattara's hotel headquarters from where Mr. Ouattara addressed the nation on what he called "a historic day."

Mr. Ouattara said that "a white page opened before the people of Ivory Coast, white like the white in the national flag that symbolizes hope and peace."  "Together," he said, "Ivorians can write a story of reconciliation and forgiveness."

Mr. Ouattara guaranteed Mr. Gbagbo's safety and assured the people of Ivory Coast that the former president will stand trial.

Human Rights Watch says Mr. Gbagbo should not be allowed exile in a country that would shield him from prosecution.  At the same time, the group says Mr. Ouattara's forces have an obligation to treat him and others in their custody humanely, in accordance with international law.

Mr. Gbagbo's capture ends a four-month political standoff between the presidential rivals as Gbagbo troops slowly deserted their leader.  Hundreds of members of his Republican Guard surrendered to U.N. peacekeepers on Monday.  Mr. Ouattara met late in the day with several former generals from the Gbagbo army.

With Mr. Gbago's capture, the spokesman for the U.N. mission here, Hamadoun Toure, said that restoring law and order in Abidjan is now the top priority, especially as many members of Mr. Gbagbo's militant youth wing are still at large.

"During the fighting we witnessed an increase in banditry activities," said Toure. "Young armed people were roaming around breaking into houses, carjacking, snatching people's mobile phones and valuables.  That has to stop of course.  It is a challenge."

Ouattara officials say that they are searching for key Gbagbo supporters, including militant youth leader Charles Ble Goude.

Ouattara forces swept across Ivory Coast when international mediators failed to convince Mr. Gbagbo to give up power.  They reached Abidjan 12 days ago, but they were unable to capture the presidential compound where hundreds of Gbagbo loyalists held them off with heavy weapons.

U.N. and French helicopters attacked the compound one week ago, but Ouattara forces could not fight their way in.  U.S. and U.N. officials say Gbagbo troops used a brief ceasefire to regroup and rearm, and late last week they were regaining ground in Abidjan.

That momentum appears to have collapsed when U.N. and French attack helicopters again bombed the presidential compound on Sunday because U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Gbagbo forces were using heavy artillery and mortars to attack the U.N. base in Abidjan as well as Mr. Ouattara's headquarters.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Mr. Gbagbo's arrest "sends a strong signal to dictators" in West Africa and beyond, and that they cannot disregard the voice of their own people in free and fair elections.   

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