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Soldiers find Gbagbo palace arsenal

More than 500 BM-21 missiles were found stacked in green wooden crates in the basement of Ivory Coast's Presidential Palace, where foreign leaders had come only weeks ago to mediate a peaceful end to the country's political crisis.

The extent of strongman Laurent Gbagbo's arsenal is now coming into focus as it is discovered in caches around Abidjan, enough military might to wage an extended civil war had Gbagbo not been captured on Monday.

"We have here significant stocks of heavy arms, which shows clearly that the UN Security Council resolution was appropriate and that the opportunity was taken to get rid of these weapons," President Alassane Ouattara's secretary general Amadou Gon Coulibaly said, referring to the resolution that authorised the United Nations and French helicopters to attack and destroy heavy arms last week.

Pro-Gbagbo soldiers held out for days at the luxurious palace in the centre of Abidjan, which was only conquered on Wednesday. On Thursday, Mr Coulibaly surveyed the premises and found the arms caches.

In the basement of the palace, an Associated Press reporter counted at least 532 cases of BM-21 missiles, each one more than 8ft long. The missiles were first fielded by the Soviet Union in the 1960s, typically arrayed on a truck-mounted multiple-barrelled missile launcher.

Crates of mortars, grenades and ammunition littered the sprawling gardens and boxes of emergency medical supplies were also stacked in an office.

All around Abidjan, teams of Red Cross workers put charred corpses into bags while UN peacekeepers gathered more weapons, throwing them into dump trucks for disposal.

More than a week of heavy fighting turned a city once known as the Paris of West Africa into one of deprivation, fear and death. The urban warfare culminated in the arrest on Monday of Gbagbo. Now Mr Ouattara's first order of business is to get Abidjan functioning again.

"We need to secure the country, notably Abidjan," he said at his first press conference on Wednesday. "There are still arms caches, but we will get rid of them with our allied forces ... These weapons will be gathered and burned."

Mr Ouattara said on Wednesday that Gbagbo would be kept in a villa and that the justice minister was preparing for his possible prosecution.

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