In Ivory Coast, Defeated President Captured

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, security forces on Monday arrested defeated President Laurent Gbagbo, who was hunkered down a bunker under his official residence. It ends a nearly five-month power struggle over the nation's presidency.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Ivory Coast, security forces today arrested the disputed leader Laurent Gbagbo in a bunker under his official residence. He had hunkered down there last week after a nearly five-month power struggle with his presidential rival. Today's arrest comes after U.N. attack helicopters, backed by French firepower, hammered Gbagbo's residential compound.

The arrest ends a deadly political standoff that disrupted valuable cocoa exports and threatened to return the West African nation to civil war. Ivory Coast's new president, Alassane Ouattara, said Gbagbo will go on trial. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said his arrest would send a message to dictators and tyrants around the world.

HILLARY CLINTON: They may not disregard the voice of their own people in free and fair elections, and there will be the bunker of his presidential mansion. His people, his spokesman, Gbagbo's spokesman, said that Gbagbo surrendered himself to the opposing forces.

So that's a dramatic turn of events because for the past two weeks, we have seen fierce fighting going on here in the commercial capital Abidjan. Civilians blockaded in their houses and it looks as if the guns have fallen silent for now.

SIEGEL: Well, Ofeibea, what happens now to the Laurent Gbagbo?

QUIST: Big, big question mark. Ouattara's U.N. ambassador, Youssoufou Bamba, says now that they have Gbagbo in their hands, he is going to go for trial for human rights atrocities and violations of human rights. But we haven't got to that stage yet. The U.N. says at the moment that it is prepared to protect what - the Gbagbo couple, Mrs. Gbagbo was also brought to the Golf Hotel, and they will see what happens next.

But it seems that Ouattara's people are pushing for some sort of trial on human rights abuses. But I have to add here that it's not only Laurent Gbagbo's forces who are accused of targeting civilians with heavy weapons, especially Gbagbo's side, but also the pro-Ouattara forces are also accused of human rights abuses, and that has been said by many humanitarian organizations and others, especially in western Ivory Coast, which is a tinder box. So both sides could be facing court cases.

SIEGEL: Now, I gather there are still a great many men with arms in Ivory Coast. Will today's arrest actually stop the conflict?

QUIST: Indeed. And the U.N. says now that Gbagbo is in custody, that is the priority. Abidjan, in the past month or so, has become a lawless city. You have both pro-Gbagbo youth militia and pro-Ouattara forces in the city heavily armed. Civilians are talking about being held up for everything from jewelry to food, and yet they have been without water, without food, without security and without health care for weeks.

So the U.N. says, that is the priority and certainly civilians are going to say that must be a priority. Restoring law and order must be number one because they are absolutely terrorized.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST: Always a pleasure.

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