Abidjan celebrates Gbagbo’s fall

By Mark John and Loucoumane Coulibaly

ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Shouts of joy erupted in parts of Abidjan on Monday as news of the arrest of Laurent Gbagbo spread through Ivory Coast’s main city, where many had been trapped in their homes during 10 days of heavy fighting.

But some warned the country’s deep crisis was not over and that armed supporters of the former president were still at large.

Residents drove their cars around, hooting in jubilation. In Koumassi, a district in the south of Abidjan, Mariam Cisse said residents were on the streets, chanting: “Gbagbo is gone. Gbagbo is gone.”

“It is unbelievable what is going on here. People are running around in every direction and screaming that they are finally free,” said Ali Toure in Abobo, a neighborhood dominated by supporters of Gbagbo’s presidential rival Alassane Ouattara and scarred by violence.

Gbagbo had refused to step down after losing U.N.-certified elections last November to Ouattara, plunging the world’s top cocoa-producing country into a violent confrontation that has left thousands dead and more than a million displaced.

Gbagbo, who says the election was fraudulent, was arrested on Monday after French armored vehicles closed in on the compound where he had been holed up in a bunker.

“There is jubilation on the streets of Deux Plateaux,” said Francois Deya. “People are celebrating all over.”

In Adjame, in front of a police station, a group of armed pro-Ouattara youths unfurled a giant Ivorian flag before an ecstatic crowd.

A military pickup truck carrying a dozen pro-Ouattara troops raced through, saluting and celebrating with their fists held high in the air.

Moussa Soumahoro, a resident who lives in the upscale district of Cocody where Gbagbo had held out, said he hoped life would get better in the city of 4 million, where food, water and medical supplies are running low.

He said he had voted for Ouattara but added that if he did not deliver, he would be booted out.

In the Banco neighborhood, about 50 cheering youths celebrated the news of Gbagbo’s arrest.

“Let’s hope the country can find peace and stability. I’m very happy,” said Jean Desire Aitcheou.

“A big thank you to France for having liberated us,” said Fidi Ouattara, who is unrelated to the presidential claimant.

NIGHTMARE OVER?

Ouattara’s government prime minister Guillaume Soro appealed to Gbagbo’s remaining fighters to join the new armed forces and told the pro-Ouattara TV channel: “the nightmare has ended.”

Some however were cautious, warning that the five-month conflict was far from over.

“Our work is not finished yet,” a neighborhood leader known as Captain Wanto said in Adjame as people celebrated in the central market nearby.

“All of these Gbagbo militia with weapons, what are we going to do with them? We have lost too many of our families, this is not a time to celebrate,” he said.

Unsure of how armed pro-Gbagbo militia who still hold sway in parts of Abidjan might react to news of his arrest, some people preferred to watch the celebrations from their windows.

Gunshots rang out in parts of the city, residents said, and in the pro-Gbagbo neighborhood of Yopougon Reuters correspondents witnessed clashes between Ouattara’s forces and troops loyal to Gbagbo around a bridge.

(Writing by Bate Felix; editing by Andrew Roche)

Abidjan celebrates Gbagbo’s fall