ABIDJAN - Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo was arrested on Monday after French armored vehicles closed in on the compound where the self-proclaimed president had been holed up in a bunker.
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A column of more than 30 French armored vehicles moved in on Gbagbo's residence in Abidjan after helicopter gunships attacked the compound overnight in bid to end a months-long political standoff that had descended into civil war.
Gbagbo refused to step down when Alassane Ouattara won last November's
presidential election, according to results certified by the United
Nations, reigniting a civil war that has claimed more than a thousand
lives and uprooted a million people.
"Yes, he has been arrested," Affoussy Bamba, a spokeswoman for Ouattara, told Reuters.
Gbagbo's spokesman in Ivory Coast, Ahoua Don Mello, told Reuters:
"[Ivorian] President Laurent Gbagbo came out of his bunker and surrendered to the
French without offering resistance."
French officials said Gbagbo had been arrested by Ouattara's forces backed by the United Nations and the French military.
Shortly after the news broke, Nicolas Sarkozy's office said the French
president had just had a long telephone conversation with Ouattara.
French armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard said: "Just after 3
o'clock, the ex-president Laurent Gbagbo handed himself over to the
Republican Forces of Ivory Coast. At no moment did French forces enter
either the garden or the residence of Gbagbo."
A French Defense Ministry official said: "It's not French forces who
arrested Laurent Gbagbo ... It was Ouattara forces supported by UNOCI
(the U.N. mission) and Licorne (French forces)."
Ouattara's spokesman Bamba said Gbagbo had been taken to the Hotel Golf
in Abidjan where his rival has had his headquarters since the
presidential election last November.
United Nations officials confirmed Gbagbo was being held by Ouattara's forces.
"The nightmare has ended," Ouattara's Prime Minister Guillaume Soro said on Ouattara's TCI television channel.
In Abidjan's Banco neighborhood, about 50 cheering youths celebrated the news of Gbagbo's arrest.
"Let's hope the country can find peace and stability. I'm very happy," said Jean Desire Aitcheou.
"A big thankyou to France for having liberated us," said Fidi Ouattara (no relation to presidential claimant).
Earlier on Monday, residents reported heavy fighting between forces
loyal to Ouattara and those backing Gbagbo around Abidjan's Cocody and
Hundreds of fresh pro-Ouattara troops massed at a base camp just north
of Abidjan, where a small bus arrived, filled with new Kalashnikov
rifles still in their transparent blue wrappers.
The French armored vehicles left their base in the south and headed towards downtown Abidjan early on Monday.
"Armed and ready for combat," the commanding officer ordered. The men
cocked their weapons ready to fire as the vehicles rolled out of the
France, the former colonial power in Ivory Coast with more than 1,600
troops in the country, took a lead role in efforts to persuade Gbagbo to
relinquish power, infuriating his supporters who accuse Paris of
Some Gbagbo supporters around Cocody district, where his residence is
located, tried to halt the French armored vehicles, kneeling in front
of them praying, but were quickly dispersed when another round of firing
A resident said he saw 15 pro-Gbagbo soldiers surrender their weapons
and battle fatigues to the French soldiers. A French army source later
said more than 100 members of the pro-Gbagbo army had surrendered their
The arrest of Gbagbo and the lifting of European Union sanctions on the
two main ports in the world's top cocoa-producing nation mean cocoa
exports may be possible by next week.
Cocoa prices, which had earlier risen sharply on reports of fighting, fell back when Gbagbo's arrest was announced.
Ivory Coast's $2.3 billion bond rallied more than half a point on
Monday, reversing earlier three-point losses, after Gbagbo was arrested.
Helicopter attacks a week ago on Gbagbo's heavy weapons by the United
Nations and France appeared to bring Gbagbo's forces to the point of
surrender, but they used a lull in fighting to regroup before taking
more ground in Abidjan.
Ouattara's forces swept from the north to coastal Abidjan almost
unopposed more than a week ago in a drive to install their leader as
Gbagbo's defeat had appeared imminent last week and talks took place
between the two sides. But Gbagbo's soldiers dug in, holding on to
swathes of the city and frustrating hopes of a swift end to the
Even now, Ouattara's ability to unify the West African country may be
undermined by reports of atrocities against civilians since his forces
charged into Abidjan. Ouattara's camp has denied involvement.
Human Rights Watch said on Saturday that forces loyal to Ouattara had
killed hundreds of civilians, raped more than 20 women and girls
perceived as belonging to Gbagbo's camp and burned at least 10 villages
in western Ivory Coast.
Those loyal Gbagbo, in turn, killed more than 100 alleged supporters of Ouattara in March.