- Associated Press - Sunday, April 17, 2011

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Ivory Coast’s justice minister said late Saturday that dozens of family members and domestic workers of disgraced strongman Laurent Gbagbo have been freed from detention.

Jeannot Ahoussou announced on national television that the government had released nearly 70 of about 120 people arrested when fighters stormed the presidential residence where Mr. Gbagbo had dug in for a last stand after refusing to cede power to the internationally recognized president.

Mr. Ahoussou said 38 were workers, including cooks and gardeners. About 30 family members, including Mr. Gbagbo’s grandchildren, were taken to a secret location, he said.

Mr. Gbagbo’s former foreign minister, Alcide Djedje, said they were at an unlooted family home near the seaside resort of Grand Bassam, under U.N. protection.

On Tuesday, former Interior Minister Desiree Tagro died after being shot and badly beaten during Monday’s assault, which ended four months of fighting over elections won by Alassane Ouattara.

The international community had for months urged Mr. Gbagbo to step down, and a West African regional bloc threatened military intervention.

The president of Gambia expressed support for Mr. Gbagbo, who was arrested Monday by pro-Ouattara forces.

“Alassane Ouattara and his forces cannot go scot-free and blame everything on President Laurent Gbagbo, who, according to the Ivorian Constitution, is the legitimate (leader) of Ivory Coast,” read a government statement broadcast by state television late Saturday in the tiny West African nation.

The statement from the government of Gambia President Yahya Jammeh, who grabbed power in a 1994 coup, said Mr. Gbagbo should not be brought before any court “while Alassane Ouattara, the internationally selected president of Ivory Coast, goes scot-free after massacring thousands of civilians just to be president.”

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of neighboring Liberia, which has seen droves of refugees, said regional leaders did not have the “the kind of capacity, the firepower, the equipment, military machine that is necessary to force people out of power.”

“I was very sad when I saw the photographs of how former President Gbagbo was arrested,” Ms. Sirleaf said. “It shouldn’t have come to that. That was why we tried to persuade him to leave in dignity and to leave in honor, but he didn’t heed that warning, and so it’s unfortunate.”

Also late Saturday, Pascal Affi N’Guessan, the leader of Mr. Gbagbo’s party, urged die-hard militants to lay down their arms and called for national reconciliation, even as shooting erupted in a suburb of Abidjan.

Mr. Affi N’Guessan read a declaration urging “an end to the death of our compatriots,” saying the people of Ivory Coast must “give a chance to the restoration of peace” and halt the “revenge killings, the looting.”

He spoke after shooting erupted Saturday morning in Abidjan’s sprawling Yopougon neighborhood on the outskirts of the commercial capital, where Gbagbo fighters have sought refuge and pro-Ouattara fighters were trying to disarm them.

Mr. Affi N’Guessan was accompanied by Mr. Djedje, who told the Associated Press that Mr. Gbagbo is under the protection of U.N. peacekeepers in northern Korhogo town, a Ouattara stronghold.

He said Mr. Gbagbo’s wife, Simone, who is accused of encouraging his intransigence, remains in Abidjan with nearly 100 other prisoners of the former regime.

Mr. Ouattara has said that Mr. Gbagbo’s safety is assured and that he wants the former strongman tried by both national and international courts for his alleged crimes. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has said it is conducting a preliminary examination into crimes perpetrated by all sides in the conflict.

Thousands of people have been killed and wounded, according to the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Mr. Ahoussou, the justice minister, told the AP that he was drawing up a list of ministers, generals and journalists to be charged with blood crimes, corruption and hate speech.

He said he also was investigating journalists who broadcast hate speech. Mr. Gbagbo turned the state Radio Television Ivoirienne into a propaganda organ that broadcast statements inciting violence against tribes loyal to Mr. Ouattara.

Associated Press writers Abdoulie John in Banjul, Gambia, and Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Ganta, Liberia, contributed to this report.

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