Gbagbo under house arrest in tense Ivory Coast

13th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara ordered ousted rival Laurent Gbagbo to be held under house arrest as France said Wednesday its gendarmes would patrol Abidjan's lawless streets.

Rights group Amnesty International warned that Gbagbo's supporters were at risk of violent reprisals following his arrest on Monday for having stubbornly refused to admit defeat to Ouattara in a November presidential election.

While both Ouattara and Gbagbo have called for fighters to lay down arms to help the formerly wealthy west African nation get back on its feet, Amnesty warned that supporters of the former regime faced deadly reprisals.

Armed men, some wearing military uniforms, have been conducting house-to-house searches in neighbourhoods, including Yopougon and Koumassi, where supporters of Gbagbo are living, Amnesty said.

One eyewitness told Amnesty how a policeman belonging to Gbagbo's ethnic group was taken from his house on Tuesday and shot dead at point blank range.

Sporadic clashes have erupted in Abidjan districts still loyal to Gbagbo and with looting rife in others after 10 days of bitter fighting, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said French gendarmes would patrol the city's streets.

"Ivorian and French gendarmes will patrol Abidjan to show that the rule of law is being established," Longuet told parliament, noting that senior police and military leaders had pledged allegiance to Ouattara.

The Licorne force of former colonial master France is deployed in the country to support United Nations peacekeepers, with a mandate to protect foreigners, while both forces helped Ouattara's fighters capture Gbagbo.

Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio said that Gbagbo and some of his companions had been placed under house arrest pending the opening of a judicial inquiry into his alleged crimes.

The government did not say where Gbagbo was being held, nor who the "companions" were. He was arrested with his wife Simone, son Michel and several former officials of his ousted regime.

The Ouattara government has said it is determined Gbagbo will face justice over the months of fighting that erupted after he refused to admit defeat in the November election.

His decade-long rule was finally ended on Monday when troops loyal to Ouattara stormed a bunker in his Abidjan residence.

Tensions in Abidjan have been exacerbated further by news that a former interior minister who was arrested along with Gbagbo, Desire Tagro, died on Tuesday in circumstances that remained unclear, sources said.

A Gbagbo supporter alleged Tagro was shot while in custody at the hotel where the ousted president was taken after his capture but one of the sources, a diplomat, said he might have tried to kill himself.

Fighting in Abidjan has left streets littered with bodies and parts of the city in the grip of looters.

But a semblance of normal life appeared to return to large parts of the city, with traffic back on the streets and some shops reopening.

The White House said that US President Barack Obama had called Ouattara "to congratulate him on assuming his duties as the democratically elected president of Cote d'Ivoire.

"President Obama offered support for President Ouattara's efforts to unite Cote d'Ivoire, restart the economy, restore security and reform the security forces," it added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed Ouattara's promise to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to look into accusations of massacres and other crimes made against both sides in the conflict.

The UN, which has more than 9,000 troops and police in Ivory Coast, will keep up its mission helping to restore law and order and Ban offered help coping with a "critical" humanitarian emergency.

The UN has said that at least 800 people have been confirmed killed in the fighting.

The presidential crisis has crippled the economy of the world's biggest cocoa producer, and France and the European Union have said they will give a total of 580 million euros in emergency aid.


© 2011 AFP

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