By Jeff Mays
HARLEM—An animated celebration broke out on West 116th Street in Harlem Monday night as hundreds of revelers gathered to mark the news that former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo had been arrested.
Two orange, green and white Ivory Coast flags were displayed as more than 200 Ivorians danced in front of Cafe La Case on West 116th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass boulevards in what is known as Little Senegal. Dozens of livery cabs were double parked as the drivers took breaks from their shifts to celebrate in the area named for its large collection of West African immigrants.
"The majority of people out here dancing lost at least one family member," said Nassira Toure, a nurse's assistant and 1199 Service Employee International Union delegate who traveled from Brooklyn for the celebration.
Gbagbo, 65, lost in a Nov. 28 election to economist Alassane Ouattara, 69, but refused to sign papers ceding power. A violent power struggle between both factions almost re-ignited a civil war, caused at least thousands of deaths, according to the United Nations, and forced more than 1 million people to flee their homes.
Gbagbo's security forces allegedly used mortars and machine guns against opponents, according to the Associated Press. It took an assault by French, United Nations and rebel forces on Gbagbo's home to bring him into custody Monday.
"It's been four long months. He didn't want to go so today, I am happy," said Obkon Kon, 45, of the Bronx, a supervisor for a livery cab company in Harlem.
Mamadou Kouyate, 35, an entrepreneur from Harlem, said he was happy Gbagbo had been captured but also sad because a childhood friend in the Ivory Coast was killed yesterday when a mortar landed on his house.
"Today, I have joy and fury because my friend didn't live one more day to see this beautiful day," said Kouyate.
But with Gbagbo's capture, Kouyate said he was hopeful for his country's future. Ivory Coast is the world's largest exporter of high-grade cocoa.
"Our president is capable. Anything is possible now because there is nothing to stop him," Kouyate said.
Oliver Digbeu, 35, who works in information technology, said he believes that forgiveness is the key to the Ivory Coast's future success.
"We have to forgive each other because we made a mistake," Digbeu said.
As for Gbagbo, he should not be harmed, Digbeu said.
"We want to put him on trial and then put him in jail so that five years from now he can look out of his prison window and see what a beautiful place our country has become," Digbeu said.