Abidjan: The leader of strongman Laurent Gbagbo`s party urged die-hard militants to lay down their arms and called for national reconciliation on Saturday, even as shooting erupted in a suburb of Abidjan.
Pascal Affi N`Guessan read a declaration to the nation saying "the war has ended" following Gbagbo`s arrest on Monday. He urged "an end to the death of our compatriots”, saying the people of Ivory Coast must "give a chance to the restoration of peace" and halt the "revenge killings, the looting”.
Gbagbo, who has ruled since 2000, refused to accept defeat at November 28 elections that he had delayed for five years. He took a last stand in Abidjan, the commercial capital, where remaining loyalist troops turned heavy weapons on civilians. He was arrested by forces loyal to internationally recognised President Alassane Ouattara after UN and French troops bombed the presidential palace.
"The FPI is very devastated by the chaotic situation and presents its sympathies to the families of all those who have died," said Affi N`Guessan, leader of the Ivorian Popular Front.
International journalists initially were prevented from hearing his declaration by an officer of forces who fought to install Ouattara and who themselves are accused of killing hundreds of civilians in what could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Only Ouattara`s Ivorian Radio and Television, known by its French acronym RTI, was first allowed to film the declaration.
But journalists telephoned ministers in Ouattara`s Cabinet complaining, and were later allowed to separately record Affi N`Guessan`s statement.
He spoke after shooting erupted Saturday morning in Abidjan`s sprawling Yopougon neighbourhood on the outskirts of the commercial capital, where Gbagbo fighters have sought refuge and pro-Ouattara fighters were trying to disarm them, residents of the area said.
Affi N`Guessan was accompanied by Gbagbo`s former foreign minister, Alcide Djedje, who said that Gbagbo is under the protection of UN peacekeepers in northern Korhogo town, a Ouattara stronghold.
Djedje said he, at least two other ministers and several legislators also have been given UN protection in Abidjan, after an agreement was reached on Thursday with Ouattara`s government.
He said Gbagbo`s wife, Simone, who is accused of encouraging his intransigence, remains in Abidjan with nearly 100 other prisoners of the former regime. Ouattara`s children are being protected at an unlooted family home near the seaside resort of Grand Bassam, Djedje said.