More than one million civilians had fled their homes and untold numbers were killed in the power struggle between the two rivals that threatened to reignite a civil war in the world's largest cocoa producer. Gbagbo's security forces have been accused of using cannons, 60mm mortars, and 50-caliber machine guns to mow down opponents during the standoff.
"After more than four months of postelectoral crisis, marked by so many human lives lost, we are finally at the dawn of a new era of hope," Ouattara said in an address to the nationn.
Ouattara cut short speculation that Gbagbo would be delivered to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, calling for an Ivorian investigation into the former president, his wife, and their entourage.
"Every measure has been taken to assure the physical integrity of Mr. Laurent Gbagbo, his wife, and all those arrested," he said. "They will receive dignified treatment and their rights will be respected."
Ouattara also said he intended to establish a truth and reconciliation commission and called on all fighters to put down their arms.
President Obama welcomed Gbagbo's capture, calling it a victory for the democratic will of the Ivorian people, who "have the chance to begin to reclaim their country, solidify their democracy, and rebuild a vibrant economy."
Gbagbo, who ruled the former French colony for a decade, was pulled from his burning residence by Ouattara's troops after fighting earlier in the day. The pro-Ouattara forces had received support by French tanks and helicopters.
Residents of the commercial capital of Abidjan refrained from celebrating in public, still fearful of the many armed fighters prowling the streets and refusing to believe their leader had been arrested. Sporadic gunfire echoed across the city Monday night.
Gbagbo, 65, could be forced to answer for his soldiers' crimes, even though an international trial threatens to stoke the divisions that Ouattara will have to heal as president.
Gbagbo's dramatic arrest came after days of heavy fighting in which French and U.N. helicopters fired rockets at arms depots around the city and targets within the presidential compound. Ouattara's final push began just after French air strikes ceased about 3 a.m. Monday. A simultaneous French armored advance secured large parts of the city, and pro-Ouattara troops entered the presidential compound just after midday.
"We attacked and forced in a part of the bunker," said Issard Soumahro, a pro-Ouattara fighter. He added that Gbagbo was tired and had been slapped by a soldier but was not otherwise hurt.
Another Ouattara fighter, Yaya Toure, said the assault was "hard in the beginning, but we got up our courage to enter" the residence. "Then in the residence, we went in and took him," he said. "It wasn't the whites [the French] who took him - it was us."
In the western town of Duekoue, pro-Ouattara forces fired into the air in jubilation, panicking refugees who fled in all directions or fell to the ground in terror. In villages east of Duekoue, people danced in the streets, waving tree branches. In one village, young men paraded with the orange, white, and green Ivorian flag.
"This is an end of a chapter that should never have been," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "We have to help them to restore stability, rule of law, and address all humanitarian and security issues."
Ivory Coast was divided into a rebel-controlled north and a loyalist south by a 2002-03 civil war and was officially reunited in a 2007 peace deal. The long-delayed presidential election was intended to bring together the nation but instead unleashed months of violence.
Gbagbo already had overstayed his mandate by five years when he called the fall election and won 46 percent of the runoff vote.
When the country's election commission and international observers declared Dec. 2 that he lost the balloting, he refused to step down.