Wednesday 21 February 2018

Ivorians rejoice as detested dictator Gbagbo is captured

Laurent Gbagbo wiping his face with a towel as he changes his clothes in an Abidjan hotel following his arrest
Laurent Gbagbo wiping his face with a towel as he changes his clothes in an Abidjan hotel following his arrest

Aislinn Laing in Abidjan

THE besieged Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo was captured yesterday by forces loyal to president-elect Alassane Ouattara after weeks of fighting.

Mr Ouattara's soldiers, backed by French and UN troops, removed Mr Gbagbo (65), who had been holed up in the presidential residence in Abidjan for almost two weeks.

He was taken to the Golf Hotel, the president-elect's temporary headquarters, with an entourage of 50 people.

His eldest son, Michel, showed signs of having been beaten, while Mr Gbagbo himself appeared to have a swollen eye.

Local television showed Mr Gbagbo looking bewildered. His wife, Simone, an evangelical Christian who is believed to have had an important influence on his political decisions, was also arrested, as was his mother.

The news brought many of Mr Ouattara's supporters racing out on to the streets of Abidjan, which erupted with the sound of loud cheers, gunfire and car horns.

"We are very very happy," said one man, waving a sarong like a flag. "Gbagbo is gone. He has been captured."

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said Mr Gbagbo's fate was a warning to all dictators that "they may not disregard the voice of their own people in free and fair elections".

In remarks evidently directed at Libya's Col Muammar Gaddafi, she added that "there will be consequences for those who cling to power".

Guillaume Soro, the Ivory Coast's prime minister, said Mr Gbagbo had handed himself in to Mr Ouattara's forces.

He appealed to his remaining fighters to surrender, saying: "There cannot be a manhunt."

The United Nations said Mr Gbagbo's forces had indicated their willingness to surrender but it was unclear when a mechanism for them to be disarmed would be put in place or what their leader's fate would be. Alaine Le Roy, the head of the UN peacekeeping operations, said Mr Ouattara "might want to prosecute him, but that is his call".

A diplomat living near the presidential residence said he could hear the celebrations from his window, a welcome contrast to the gunfire that has reverberated around the area in recent weeks.

But he warned that Mr Ouattara, who won 54pc of the vote in internationally supervised elections in November, which Mr Gbagbo refused to honour, would struggle to reunite his nation after allegations of mass atrocities in the west.

The power struggle between Mr Ouattara and Mr Gbagbo reflected deep tribal and religious tensions which have pitted the mainly Christian south against northern Muslims.

"The hard part is just starting -- reconstruction, reconciliation, bringing back law and order and detailing with the grisly events of recent weeks in the west of the country, where there are still death squads roaming around," the diplomat said.

Mr Le Roy said that the Ivory Coast continued to face a number of major humanitarian problems and he warned that "the crisis is not over".

French forces were rumoured to have arrested Mr Gbagbo, a politically sensitive detail, but a spokesman for the French Licorne force angrily insisted that "there was not a single French soldier inside the residence when Laurent Gbagbo was arrested".

Additional reporting by Jon Swaine. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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