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Ivory Coast's New Leader Moves To Restore Order

Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara chats with military and police officials who've now pledged their support to him.
Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara chats with military and police officials who've now pledged their support to him.

Ivory Coast's president-in-waiting tried Wednesday to restore order to the embattled country even as pockets of fighters loyal to ousted strongman Laurent Gbagbo fought on in the main city of Abidjan.

As periodic bouts of gunfire erupted in Abidjan, Alassane Ouattara, whose forces captured Gbagbo on Monday after a fierce siege of the presidential compound, repeated his call against violence and asked fighters to put down their arms.

"We need to secure the country, notably Abidjan," he said. "It is important for the country to emerge from this crisis on top."

Ouattara won November's presidential election by a narrow margin, but incumbent Gbagbo refused to give up power, sparking an armed struggle that brought the country to the brink of civil war.

In the past few days, a procession of Ivorian military generals, plus the heads of the police and gendarmerie have pledged their loyalty to Ouattara, bolstering his legitimacy.

The army chief, Gen. Philippe Mangou, who just days earlier was fighting for Gbagbo, pledged Wednesday to serve Ouattara, calling for a new era of peace and reconciliation.

No International Handover, For Now

All was far from forgiven in the country, with Ouattara pledging that Gbagbo would face charges and possible prosecution on both national and international levels.

But the new president cut short speculation that Gbagbo would be handed immediately over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face possible war crime charges. Instead, he has called for an Ivorian investigation into the actions of the former president, his wife and entourage.

"Reconciliation cannot happen without justice," Ouattara told reporters in Abidjan.

The president said his ousted rival was being held in a residence under surveillance somewhere in the country.

The International Criminal Court had no immediate comment on Ouattara's statement. The court and the United Nations Human Rights Commission, among others, have said they are investigating human rights abuses on both sides of the conflict.

Country Tries To Get Back To Business

The scars of fighting were still evident Wednesday as civilians ventured out from their houses for the first time in days, and cars began to tentatively circulate, many with white cloths tied to a radio antenna so that they wouldn't be mistaken for combatants.

Ouattara said that he will settle into the presidential palace in the coming days, but that a swearing-in ceremony is not a priority and will take place later. His priority, he said, is to provide security for Ivorians, to establish law and order and to get the country working. Many Ivorians went without food and water as fighting roiled the nation last week.

More than 1 million civilians fled their homes amid the fighting, which also completely shut down the economy of the cocoa-producing powerhouse.

On Wednesday, teams of Red Cross workers combed the city for corpses, shoveling charred remains off the pavement and stacking black body bags in hearses.

No one knows how many people have been killed. A week ago, when the United Nations was reporting more than 400 deaths throughout the country, the Red Cross said thousands had been killed and wounded.

The U.N. Role

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said Wednesday that the United Nations provided transportation for Gbagbo and continues to give him personal security protection while he is in custody, at Ouattara's request.

Speaking to reporters before a U.N. Security Council meeting, Le Roy said fighting continued in Ivory Coast Wednesday, along with "quite a bit of looting."

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos painted a bleak picture of daily life in Ivory Coast, with food scarce, entire neighborhoods without electricity, and many hospitals and schools closed.

"We need to act now," Amos said, appealing on nations to donate more money for humanitarian assistance to the west African county. "We must not let the people of Ivory Coast down."

Amos, who visited the country last week before Gbagbo was captured, said "there are still many political challenges ahead."

French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet also said Wednesday that France will reduce its military force in the Ivory Coast from 1,700 to 980 troops as soon as possible. Longuet said French forces took a secondary role to Ouattara's forces and the U.N. in capturing Gbagbo.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton contributed to this story, which includes material from The Associated Press.

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