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UN Chief Calls on Ivory Coast to Embrace 'Historic Opportunity'

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on Ivory Coast to take advantage of a "historic opportunity" for national reconciliation following the arrest of former leader Laurent Gbagbo.

Ban spoke Monday with President-elect Alassane Ouattara, and stressed the need to ensure there is no retaliation against Gbagbo's supporters.

The U.N. says it will continue to protect civilians and help support the government in re-establishing law.

Ban also said the crisis could have been avoided if Gbagbo "respected the will of the people at a far earlier stage."

The U.N. Human Rights Council has named three experts to investigate abuses following the country's November presidential election.  The council said Tuesday the panel will include Vitit Muntabhorn of Thailand, Suliman Baldo of Sudan and Reine Alapini Gansou of Benin.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Gbagbo's arrest "a victory for the democratic will of the Ivoirian people."

Obama said in a statement Monday that the people of the Ivory Coast now have a chance to reclaim their country and rebuild a vibrant economy.

Earlier Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gbagbo's capture shows "dictators" and "tyrants" that there will be consequences if they try to cling to power. She said it sends a strong signal that leaders "may not disregard the voice of their own people in free and fair elections."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said  Gbagbo repeatedly broke the law in recent months. But he said the former president must be treated fairly in any judicial process.

French officials say President Nicolas Sarkozy had a long telephone conversation with President-elect Alassane Ouattara after the standoff came to an end.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy says the key mission now is to restore security, start the process of reconciliation and deal with the massive humanitarian crisis caused by months of unrest in Ivory Coast.

Human Rights Watch said Gbagbo has been "credibly implicated" in crimes against humanity, including murder and rape.  The group has also accused pro-Ouattara forces of killing and raping civilians. It said Ouattara should open an impartial  probe into the violence once he assumes power.

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