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Relief and concern prevail in Ivory Coast after Gbagbo arrest

For the majority of Ivorians, the future may have gotten brighter following the arrest of Laurent Gbagbo. But others are preaching caution and the need for reconciliation in the deeply divided country.

Soldiers allied with Alassane Ouattara prepare their new weapons

The Ivory Coast remains a dangerous place

There was jubilation on the streets of Abidjan after the capture of ousted president Gbagbo in an underground bunker. His arrest clears the way for Alassane Ouattara to assume power as Ivory Coast's new leader and offers hope of relief after four months of fighting.

"It's a feeling of liberation," one Ivorian told Deutsche Welle. "We suffered a lot. Even at home you were worried because you knew a grenade or some other piece of ammunition could hit your house."

Other people echoed those sentiments.

"We feel an intense joy," another resident of the Ivorian capital said. "The people are finally free after four months of suffering. The people spoke their will, but it wasn't listened to. We've been through all sorts of drama and pain, and finally the 'butcher of the lagoon,' as we call him, has fallen."

Gbagbo, who is accused on numerous human rights violations, lost a run-off election to Ouattara last Novermber, but refused to cede power, leading to armed clashes between the two men's supporters.

In a public statement, incoming president Ouattara called upon his adherents to show "restraint" and said Ivory Coast was approaching "the dawn of a new era of hope." He also said he would initiate legal proceedings against Gbagbo.

But Gbagbo's supporters and international human-rights observers were far less positive, saying that the new leader would have to stress reconciliation over retribution.

Bringing Ivorians together

Laurent Gbagbo is seen after his arrest

Gbagbo's arrest won't solve all the problems

The direct rivalry between Ouattara and Gbagbo may for now have been decided in the former's favor. But international experts warn that Ivory Coast will remain a deeply divided country.

"Gbagbo's party, the FPI, is a historical force," Rinaldo Depagne, an expert with the International Crisis Group, told Deutsche Welle. "It's existed in Ivory Coast for three decades, first in the opposition, then in the government. Gbagbo has to be protected, also by the people who had conflicts with him."

While almost everyone agrees that the ex-president should be held legally responsible for any crime he may have committed, human rights activists say the new government must include a multitude of voices.

"The conflict is going to continue if the victor does not show the will to reconcile factions within the Ivorian population and encourage peace," Alioune Tine of the Senegalese human rights organization RADDHO told Deutsche Welle.

As many as 1,500 people may have been killed, and up to a million forced to flee their homes, as a result of the disputed election and the fighting between Gbagbo and Ouattara's forces.

And although many expect the hostilities to simmer down, the fighting is by no means completely over.

Insecurity remains

Civilians walk past roadblocks in Abidjan

The conflict has had a heavy human toll

Gbagbo's capture may have been widely hailed as an important step toward peace, but that doesn't mean the streets of Abidjan are entirely safe.

"There are vast population movements from one neighborhood to another because no district is really secure," Ndolamb Ngokwey, a UN aid coordinator told the AFP news agency. "Many people have told me that there are lots of bodies lying in the streets, and not only in the diplomatic district."

Witnesses also told AFP that they had heard gunfire again in pro-Gbagbo parts of the city.

Other eyewitness reports offered a similar picture.

"We must have UN patrols here," Adibjan resident Dertun Yao told Reuters news agency. "It's just not safe."

United Nations peacekeepers have been in Ivory Coast for years, and the UN said that it would be it would be sending human rights investigators to examine allegations of crimes committed by Gbagbo.

France has also announced a one-off 400-million-euro ($580-million) aid package to help the new government in its efforts to create stability in Ivory Coast. The EU has also announced a separate 180 million euro ($260 million) to help jumpstart the West African nation's economy.

Author: Jefferson Chase ( interviews: Dirke Köpp and Julien Adayé)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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