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Côte d’Ivoire: Gbagbo arrested 0

Defiant Côte d’Ivoire leader Laurent Gbagbo has been captured at his Abidjan residence, after an assault by French and U.N. forces, and fighters of his rival, Alassane Ouattara. A spokesman for the Ouattara forces, Seydou Ouattara, told VOA French to Africa service that Gbagbo was captured after an assault on the residence Monday and taken to Ouattara’s headquarters at the Golf Hotel.

French armored vehicles had been seen advancing on the residence ahead of Gbagbo’s capture.  The French embassy in Côte d’Ivoire and Ouattara representatives in New York say it was Ouattara’s men who detained the incumbent president.

Dramatic arrest in Gbagbo’s bunker

Gbagbo’s dramatic arrest came after days of heavy fighting during which French and U.N. helicopters fired rockets at his presidential residence. Forces backing the internationally recognized winner Alassane Ouattara had begun a rapid offensive to oust Gbagbo late last month.

Issard Soumahro, a pro-Ouattara fighter at the scene, told The Associated Press that the ground offensive to seize Gbagbo began after the French launched airstrikes until at least 3 a.m. Monday.

“We attacked and forced in a part of the bunker. He was there with his wife and his son. He wasn’t hurt, but he was tired and his cheek was swollen from where a soldier had slapped him,” Soumahro said.

Gbagbo emerged from his bunker in a white sleeveless undershirt. He then was interrogated and brought to the Golf Hotel, where Ouattara has been trying to run his presidency since the Nov. 28 vote. Officials are now waiting for him to sign a piece of paper that formally hands power over to Ouattara, Soumahro said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the airstrikes were aimed at Gbagbo forces’ heavy weapons, after civilians and U.N. personnel continued to be the targets of attacks.

Sarkozy called the humanitarian situation in several Abidjan neighborhoods “alarming.”  The city has endured several months of fighting since the election dispute began in early December.

How to bring the country together?

Richard Downie, an Africa expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it will be very difficult for Côte d’Ivoire to mount a domestic court to try Gbagbo, saying it would “probably be a lighting rod for more unrest.”

(Ouattara) didn’t want to come to power this way, though the barrel of a gun,” Downie said. “He was elected fairly and freely. But this is the situation he was dealt. It’s going to be incredibly difficult for him to bring the country together.”

Speaking on Ouattara’s private television station broadcast images of a serene Gbagbo sitting on his bed. It was not immediately clear if the images were taken immediately after his capture.

“It’s a victory … considering all the evil that Laurent Gbagbo inflicted on Côte d’Ivoire,” Ouattara’s ambassador to France, Ali Coulibaly, said on France-Info radio. He emphasized that the man in power for a decade would be “treated with humanity.”

“We must not in any way make a royal gift to Laurent Gbagbo in making him a martyr,” Coulibaly said. “He must be alive and he must answer for the crimes against humanity that he committed.”

“Mr Gbagbo has acted against any democratic principles in the way he has behaved in recent months and of course there have been many many breaches of any rule of law as well”, said British Foreign Minister William Hague.

“At the same time we would say that he must be treated with respect and any judicial process that follows should be a fair and properly organized judicial process,” Hague told a news conference in London.

Some critics had accused Gbagbo of clinging to power in part to avoid prosecution by the International Criminal Court. ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has begun preliminary examination of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ivory Coast, including accusations leveled against forces seeking to install Ouattara.

How heavy is the past

Côte d’Ivoire was divided into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south by a 2002-2003 civil war. The country was officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal. The long-delayed presidential election was intended to help reunify the nation but instead unleashed months of violence.

Gbagbo, who won 46 percent of the vote, held power for a decade and already had overstayed his mandate by five years when the November election took place. When the country’s election commission and international observers declared he lost the election after it was finally held, he refused to step down.

The former history professor defied near-universal pressure to cede power to Ouattara. The two set up parallel administrations that vied for control of the West African economic powerhouse. Ouattara drew his support from the U.N. and world powers. Gbagbo maintained his hold over the country’s military and security forces who terrorized his opponents.

He wrapped himself in the country’s flag as he took the oath of office.

“No one has the right to call on foreign armies to invade his country,” Gbagbo, still taking a nationalistic stance, declared in a televised address on New Year’s Eve. “Our greatest duty to our country is to defend it from foreign attack.”

Gbagbo had described efforts to oust him from power as tantamount to a foreign coup d’etat. On Monday, the French government sought to distance itself from Gbagbo’s arrest. Cmdr. Frederic Daguillon, the French forces spokesman in Abidjan, said French forces were not involved in Gbagbo’s arrest.

Other West African nations had considered military intervention to remove Gbagbo, but those efforts never materialized and sanctions imposed on Gbagbo and his inner circle by the U.S. and European Union failed to dislodge him. Human rights groups accused his security forces of abducting and killing hundreds of political opponents as the deadlock dragged on.

While the United Nations passed resolutions allowing its peacekeepers to intervene to protect civilians, anti-Gbagbo neighborhoods in Abidjan continued to be pummeled with mortars. So many people were killed that the local morgue began stacking corpses on the floor because they had run out of space in the refrigerated vaults.

Ouattara attempted to assert his authority from the Golf Hotel, protected by U.N. peacekeepers, while the would-be president tried to financially strangle Gbagbo by imposing an embargo on cocoa exports. In a desperate move, Gbagbo seized control of foreign banks in Abidjan — prompting their flight and a liquidity crunch.

After months of political deadlock, forces backing Ouattara began a dramatic offensive in late March, taking the administrative capital and reaching the largest city and commercial capital, Abidjan, in just days. They met resistance in Abidjan, where Gbagbo and his family sought refuge in an underground bunker at the presidential residence.

Last week, U.N. and French forces intervened to destroy Gbagbo’s arsenal of weapons used on civilians, firing rockets from helicopters and ultimately sending French tanks to the strongman’s home.

Human Rights Watch has accused Gbagbo forces of killing hundreds of civilians during the four-month power struggle that culimated in Monday’s fighting.  The group has also accused pro-Ouattara forces of killing and raping civilians, and said Ouattara should open an impartial  probe into the violence once he assumes power.

The U.N. said the conflict displaced some 1 million Ivorians, with more than 100,000 fleeing to neighboring Liberia.

By Staff – Afronline
Sources: Reuters, Afp, VOA

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi