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Ivory Coast: Ending "big man" rule

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AP Photo/Aristide Bodegla

(Read caption) Former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, center, and his wife, Simone, in the custody of rforces loyal to election winner Alassane Ouattara at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Forces stormed the bunker where Gbagbo hung on to power Monday, arresting the man whose refusal to hand over the presidency to the election winner left hundreds dead and threatened to re-ignite a civil war in the world's largest cocoa producer.

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The arrest of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo doesn't settle the West African nation's deep divisions. But it may begin to address some of the issues that plague many African and Mideast nations.

Mr. Gbagbo's evolution from politician to autocrat was an all too familiar story. The onetime history professor was imprisoned for a time for opposing a former Ivorian leader Felix Houphouet-Boigny. Yet when he finally came to power in 2000, he was anything but democratic, ordering political assassinations and stirring ethnic tensions.

Through a series of maneuvers, he stayed in office five years beyond his electoral mandate, finally holding elections late last year. When he lost to Alassane Ouattara, he refused to accept the results.

Does this matter outside West Africa? It does. Resource-rich Ivory Coast has seen its economy ruined by strife. Also, conflicts in West Africa too easily spill across borders, affecting nearby nations such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Finally, the international community -- specifically, the United Nations and France -- are trying to enforce the rule of law and show other "big men" in Africa and elsewhere that they cannot simply arrogate power to themselves.

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