© Luc Gnago/ReutersFrench forces advance on the residence of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo, who has been captured by opposition forces.
Detention by fighters loyal to Ouattara comes after more than 30 French armoured vehicles join advance on Abidjan residence

Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to step down as president of Ivory Coast plunged the country into violence, has been captured in Abidjan and is in the custody of opposition forces.

News of his detention came after a column of more than 30 French armoured vehicles closed in on his residence in the city and amid initial reports that he had been seized by French special forces.

But both the French government and military insist that Gbagbo was taken by troops loyal to Alasanne Ouattara, who won last year's presidential election.

A French foreign ministry source said Gbagbo had been arrested by Ouattara's forces backed by UN and French forces, while a French military spokesman was even more adamant, telling the Guardian: "There was not one French soldier at the scene when Gbagbo was taken."

Other news sources, meanwhile, have reported that Gbagbo may have been handed over to the French by his own "presidential guard".

Gbagbo and his wife are now understood to have been taken to a hotel in Abidjan.

A spokesman for Ouattara told the Guardian: "It's true. Gbagbo has been taken to the Golf hotel by republican forces. Our forces went to the residence this morning and took him out."

Gbagbo's spokesman, Ahoua Don Mello, told Reuters: "President Laurent Gbagbo came out of his bunker and surrendered to the French without resistance."

While the details of the capture remain unclear, it is possible that the French and UN soldiers attacked the building, surrounded it and then waited for Outtara's forces to go in, as France may not have the mandate or legal basis to make the arrest.

Gbagbo's detention followed missile strikes on his compound by ONUCI, the UN force in Ivory Coast, which partially destroyed the building.

One western diplomat in Abidjan said that keeping Gbagbo at the hotel could prove to be a security risk.

© ReutersIvory Coast's Dr Laurent Gbagbo's final humiliation: the President of Ivory Coast is stripped naked by French Special Forces before being handed over to Ouattara's vicious "rebels."
"I think they'll put him on a chopper as soon as possible but nowhere in Abidjan is safe," said the diplomat. "There are legal problems about taking him abroad."

Celebratory gunfire has been heard on the streets of the city and there are reports that Ouattara's camp is preparing to parade Gbagbo on television to prove his capture.

Henri Guaino, special adviser to the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said the French actions had been designed to avoid a bloodbath and not to "militarily chase" Gbagbo.

But Gbagbo's supporters have accused France of wanting to assassinate him. Mello said they had "no other objective. All the rest is nothing but a pretext."

Residents reported heavy fighting on Monday morning between forces loyal to Ouattara and those backing Gbagbo around Abidjan's Cocody and Plateau districts, still controlled by Gbagbo loyalists.

Hundreds of pro-Ouattara troops massed at a base camp just north of Abidjan, where a small bus arrived, filled with new Kalashnikov rifles still in their transparent blue wrappers.

The French armoured vehicles, each carrying four to eight men, left their base in the south and headed towards central Abidjan early in the morning.

France, the former colonial power in Ivory Coast which has more than 1,600 troops in the country, has taken a lead role in efforts to persuade Gbagbo to relinquish power, infuriating his supporters who accuse Paris of neo-colonialism.

Gbagbo's refusal to step down after Ouattara won November's election, according to results certified by the UN, reignited a civil war that has claimed more than 1,000 lives and uprooted a million people.