- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast | Forces stormed the bunker where Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo hung on to power Monday, arresting the man whose refusal to hand over the presidency to the election winner left hundreds dead and threatened to reignite a civil war in the world’s largest cocoa producer.

Mr. 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, began a rapid offensive to oust Mr. Gbagbo late last month.

Issard Soumahro, a pro-Ouattara fighter at the scene, said the ground offensive to seize Mr. Gbagbo came 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,” Mr. Soumahro said.

Mr. Gbagbo was interrogated and brought to the Golf Hotel, where Mr. Ouattara has been trying to run his presidency since the Nov. 28 vote. Officials are now waiting for him to sign a document that formally hands power over, Mr. Soumahro said.

“The nightmare is over for the people of Ivory Coast,” said Youssoufou Bamba, the Ivory Coast ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Bamba, who was appointed by Mr. Ouattara, said the defeated president will face justice.

Ali Coulibaly, Mr. Ouattara’s ambassador to France, said, “It’s a victory, considering all the evil that Laurent Gbagbo inflicted on Ivory Coast.”

Some critics accused Mr. 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 Mr. Ouattara.

Ivory Coast was divided into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south by a 2002-03 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.

Mr. 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 concede to Mr. Ouattara.

The two set up parallel administrations that vied for control of the West African economic powerhouse. Mr. Ouattara drew his support from the United Nations and world powers. Mr. Gbagbo maintained his hold over the country’s military and security forces who terrorized his opponents.



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