Ivorian leader promises reconciliation

Alassane Ouattara says Cote d'Ivoire has "turned a painful page" following capture of rival Gbagbo by French forces.

    Cote d'Ivoire's president has called for peace and promised a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission after his rival - who had refused to step down despite losing last November's election - was arrested with the help of French forces.

    Alassane Ouattara, who now faces the huge task of reuniting a country shattered by civil war and divided along ethnic and religious lines, said late on Monday the west African state had "turned a painful page" in reference to the arrest of Laurent Gbagbo, who was holed up in a bunker at his residence in Abidjan, the commerical capital.

    "I call on my fellow countrymen to abstain from all forms of reprisal and violence," Ouattara said in a speech on his TCI television, calling for "a new era of hope".

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    Gbagbo, looking submissive and startled, briefly spoke on Ouattara's TCI television and called for an end to the fighting after his arrest. He is being detained in the Hotel du Golf where Ouattara has been living since UN-certified election results showed he won the vote.

    It is was not immediately clear whether pro-Gbagbo militias, who promised to fight to the bitter end and still control parts of Abidjan, would heed calls to lay down their weapons.

    Ouattara said Gbagbo, his wife and aides who have been detained would face justice.

    His army and Gbagbo's have both been accused by human rights groups of committing atrocities.

    But Issiaka Konate, a spokesman for Ouattara in London, told Al Jazeera most of the violence happened after the election and that "there's only one person responsible for that violence and the whole world knows that it's Mr Gbagbo".

    "Had Mr Gbagbo stepped down peacefully, so many things that happened after the election wouldn't have happened," he said.

    Ouattara urged marauding youth militias to lay down their weapons and promised to restore security to the battered nation, where the UN says at least 400 people have been killed in fighting while tens of thousands have sought refuge in neighbouring Liberia and Ghana.

    French involvement

    Gbagbo's arrest followed months of fighting between his forces and Ouattara's, which began when he refused to step down after losing the November presidential runoff, plunging the world's leading cocoa grower back into civil war after a similar conflict in 2002-3.

    French forces, which have been fighting alongside UN peacekeepers ostensibly to protect civilians, led the capture amid accusations by Gbagbo's camp that France's involvement in the internal affairs of its former colony was intended to protect its economic interests in the country.

    The battle for Abidjan

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    France, which denies the accusations, has 1,700 troops in Cote d'Ivoire and a large French community in major Ivorian cities.

    The French defence minister, Gerard Longuet, said his ministry would scale back its forces after the capture of Gbagbo to a "few hundred men" but gave no timetable.

    Ouattara, a former prime minister whose attempts at the presidency had been blocked over his Burkinabe parentage until November 2010, will soon exert his authority over the country with daunting challenges.

    Analysts say it may not be enough to end the fighting that has split the country into north - which is predominantly Muslim and is Ouattara's power base - and south, which is mainly Christian and is Gbagbo's stronghold.

    In Abidjan, where people have been trapped in their homes with little food or water as fighting raged for 10 days, Ouattara faces a more immediate challenge.

    Dwindling supplies as well as frequent power cuts and a shortage of medicines have fuelled fears of a humanitarian disaster unless authorities can act swiftly.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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