Gunfire rings out in Ivory Coast main city

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The Independent Online

Sporadic gunfire rang out today after Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara called on all fighters to put down their arms now that the country's longtime strongman has been captured following a months-long deadly power struggle.





More than one million civilians fled their homes and untold numbers were killed in the more than four-month power struggle between the two rivals. The standoff threatened to re-ignite a civil war in the world's largest cocoa producer, once divided in two by violence nearly a decade ago.



Armed fighters still prowled the streets of Abidjan even after their leader Laurent Gbagbo was arrested by forces backing Ouattara. Residents said that most of the combat had ceased today, though sporadic gunfire continued and left people cowering in their homes.



Meanwhile, a top Gbagbo ally accused pro-Ouattara forces of pillaging the homes of political rivals.



"I'm getting calls of distress from all over the city from party members who fear for their lives," said Gbagbo's former foreign minister, Alcide Djedje. "I myself was forced to flee my house when looters in uniform broke in. While the looting was going on, I managed to hide at the neighbours' until the UN peacekeepers came to get me."



Gbagbo's security forces have been accused of using mortars and machine guns to mow down opponents during the standoff. Gbagbo could be forced to answer for his soldiers' crimes, but an international trial threatens to stoke the divisions that Ouattara will now have to heal as president.



Ouattara cut short speculation that Gbagbo would be delivered to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, calling for an Ivorian investigation into the former president, his wife and their entourage. Ouattara also called on his supporters to refrain from retaliatory violence and said he intended to establish a truth and reconciliation commission.



"Every measure has been taken to assure the physical integrity of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, his wife and all those arrested," he said. "They will receive dignified treatment and their rights will be respected."



French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France-Info radio that France "will certainly not take (Gbagbo) in. Let's not complicate things." Gbagbo had previously spent years abroad in France before coming to power as president.



The former coloniser also said today it would scale back its military force in Ivory Coast and give €400 million ($580 million) in aid to restore public services and boost the country's economy.



In Geneva, UN human rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the office had learned that an unspecified number of Gbagbo's forces had been arrested.



"It is unclear where they were taken and how they are being treated," she said. "Our human rights staff in Abidjan are looking into this and monitoring it. International fair trial standards include the need to press charges as soon as possible after arrest."



Gbagbo, who ruled the former French colony for a decade, was pulled from his burning residence by Ouattara's troops yesterday following fighting earlier in the day. The pro-Ouattara forces had received support by French tanks and helicopters.



Gbagbo's dramatic arrest came after days of heavy fighting in which French and UN helicopters fired rockets at arms depots around the city and targets within the presidential compound. Ouattara's final push began just after French airstrikes ceased at around 3am yesterday. A simultaneous French armoured advance secured large parts of the city, and pro-Ouattara troops entered the presidential compound just after midday.









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