Ivory Coast Looks Ahead After Gbagbo's Arrest

A bloody battle for power in the west African nation of the Ivory Coast has ended with the arrest of the country's incumbent president. Laurent Gbagbo was captured by fighters loyal to his rival, Allassane Ouatarra, after days spent holed up in a bunker beneath his residence. The dramatic arrest came after weeks of fierce fighting between forces supporting the rival presidents. It ended a four-month-long standoff which was triggered when Gbagbo refused to give up power, after losing a presidential election. For the latest on the situation, host Michel Martin speaks with Associated Press reporter Marco Chown Oved in the main city, Abidjan.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in the program we'll talk about the way boys dress - you know, the saggy pants, the T-shirts that say things you really shouldn't say to people, ever. Following last week's conversation about how to reign in the girls, today we'll talk about the boys. That's coming up.

But we're going to begin the program by talking about two important stories out of Africa that have captured the world's attention. In a few minutes we'll talk about whether the African Union is playing any constructive role in Libya. But we're going to begin in West Africa, in the Ivory Coast, where we've been following the bloody battle for power that seems to have ended yesterday with the arrest of the country's incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo.

His capture ends a four-month standoff between Gbagbo and the man the international community believes actually won the November election, Alassane Ouattara.

Mr. ALASSANE OUATTARA (Ivory Coast President-Elect): (Speaking foreign language)

MARTIN: This is Alassane Ouattara speaking to the country last night, saying the country has just turned a painful page in its history, and quote, "Here we are the dawn of a new era of hope." Here's how U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to the news.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): This transition sends a strong signal to dictators and tyrants throughout the region and around the world. They may not disregard the voice of their own people in free and fair elections.

MARTIN: We wanted to get the latest on the situation so we're joined now by Marco Chown Oved in Abidjan, who reports for the Associated Press. Marco, thank you so much for joining us once again.

Mr. MARCO CHOWN OVED (Associated Press): Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So just to bring us up to date, many people will have seen that Mr. Gbagbo had been holed up in a bunker beneath his residence, defended by troops who remained loyal to him, and that fighters loyal to Mr. Ouattara, using heavy weapons, had been waging a siege on the residents for some days. What finally happened to break the logjam? How did this finally end?

Mr. OVED: Well, what really came in here that broke this deadlock was a third force. That was the United Nations and the French, who were working together and simply decided that, I suppose, enough was enough and they acted under a U.N. resolution to come in and (unintelligible) and these arms depots that Laurent Gbagbo's forces had around town, thus removing his ability to resist.

When that didn't work, they actually came in for a second round of the bombardments, focusing on the presidential residence itself, which - what we saw yesterday was actually inflamed and largely destroyed. So I think that what - what Mr. Ouattara's forces couldn't accomplish on their own - that is, getting right to Gbagbo's house and capturing him - the French and the U.N. decided that they would assist in this operation and they were able to prepare the terrain.

Now, the French are quite insistent that they did not actually arrest Mr. Gbagbo themselves. But their role in the operation is undeniable. Their helicopters bombarded all night before the capture happened, and then they had ground troops in armored vehicles and tanks roll out and secure the area around Mr. Gbagbo's residence, immediately before Ouattara's troops came in to arrest him. So while they are technically correct in saying we didn't do the arresting, they definitely did everything but the arresting.

MARTIN: What is the atmosphere now in Abidjan? We talked to your colleague, Rukmini Callimachi, you know, earlier, who said that just people in Abidjan were essentially just hunkered down. What's the atmosphere there like now?

Mr. OVED: Well, it's not the type of celebration that we would've thought after four months of standoff and all this sort of terrible violence. Quite to the contrary, people are almost in disbelief that it's over. Rumors are rampant that the videos that they're showing on television are actually edits and they've fabricated, that Gbagbo (technical difficulties) none of this true.

And in any case, whether you believe it or not, security on the (unintelligible) is simply not there. There are still many armed partisans of Laurent Gbagbo on the street, and they're (unintelligible) they're simply turning to crime, robbing people, et cetera. So most people actually haven't headed out into the streets yet.

There are sort of three centers that we're hearing right now (technical difficulties) are these university student(ph) unions that are closely linked to the pro-Gbagbo militias, seem to have a bit of a - points of resistance. And so militia men still armed in these university residences are still firing and we're continuing to hear battles in and around those three university residences.

MARTIN: Now, we heard earlier in the introduction, a brief comment from Mr. Ouattara, who said that the country has just turned a painful page in its history and saying that we're at the dawn of a new era of hope. And you know, the implication here is that there will not be reprisals against supporters of his former opponent, Mr. Gbagbo. But clearly there's been criticism of his conduct, where there have been lots of reports of attacks by government troops and human rights violations by the pro-Gbagbo militia.

There's also been evidence, or at least allegations, that people fighting on Ouattara's side have also committed atrocities, particularly in the western part of the country. So what steps are being taken now to assure the population that there won't be reprisals and actually to restore some order? Is there any evidence that steps like that are being taken?

Mr. OVED: Well, I think it's a two-step process. You quite rightly point out that both sides have not come out of this untarnished - that neither side can claim to be completely innocent of any kind of crime. But we can't even really talk about justice, bringing anything back to normal, until we have police or soldiers on the streets and some sort of decorum established where people can go out and at least return to their daily lives.

Stage one is a security thing, but stage two, as you said, is bringing justice for what has gone on over this four-month standoff, and even what went on before it. There was a lot of (technical difficulties) beforehand that there would be international justice involved, perhaps the International Criminal Court at the Hague. But Mr. Ouattara was quite clear last night in saying that he was going to try Mr. Gbagbo (unintelligible) and their entourage.

MARTIN: OK. Well, that was Marco Chown Oved. He's a reporter with the Associated Press. He was with us on the line from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast.

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