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Ivory Coast standoff ends with strongman’s capture

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — A bloody, four-month political standoff ended Monday when troops loyal to Ivory Coast’s elected president — backed by French ground and air forces — captured the West African country’s longtime leader who had refused to give up power.

Video of former President Laurent Gbagbo being led into a room in a white undershirt was broadcast on television as proof of his detention. He would not sign a statement formally ceding power after losing a Nov. 28 election to economist Alassane Ouattara.

More than 1 million civilians fled their homes and untold numbers were killed in the power struggle between the two rivals that threatened to re-ignite a civil war in the world’s largest cocoa producer. Gbagbo’s security forces have been accused of using cannons, 60 mm mortars and .50 caliber machine guns to mow down opponents during the standoff.

Gbagbo, who ruled the former French colony for a decade, was pulled from his burning residence by Ouattara’s troops following fighting earlier in the day.

Residents of the commercial capital of Abidjan refrained from celebrating in public, still fearful of the many armed fighters prowling the streets and refusing to believe their leader had been arrested. Sporadic gunfire echoed across the city Monday night.

Gbagbo, 65, could be forced to answer for his soldiers’ crimes, even though an international trial threatens to stoke the divisions that Ouattara will now have to heal as president.

Gbagbo’s dramatic arrest came after days of heavy fighting in which French and U.N. 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 3 a.m. Monday. A simultaneous French armored advance secured large parts of the city, and pro-Ouattara troops entered the presidential compound just after midday.

“We attacked and forced in a part of the bunker,” Issard Soumahro, a pro-Ouattara fighter at the scene, told The Associated Press.

He added that Gbagbo was tired and had been slapped by a soldier, but was not otherwise hurt.

Witnesses at the nearby Golf Hotel said Gbagbo was brought in with his wife, son and about 50 members of his entourage.

“The nightmare is over for the people of Ivory Coast,” Youssoufou Bamba, appointed by Ouattara as the country’s U.N. ambassador, said in New York. Bamba declared that Gbagbo will be brought to justice.

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