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Dispute Over Police Pay in Ivory Coast Not Yet Settled - 2002-01-31

Ivory Coast police have returned to duty after a 48 hour labor action, during which they fired teargas and machine guns into the air. But the officers' pay dispute with the government has not been settled.

Prime Minister Afi N'guessan intervened Wednesday in an attempt to defuse the crisis. He met with junior police officers until late in the night and agreed to examine their pay demands by setting up a committee with representatives from both sides.

Police have chosen delegates and talks are underway.

The junior police are angry that the minister of interior, Emile Boga Doudou, has failed to fulfill his promise to pay them salaries on a par with other armed forces. They are also calling for the same risk bonuses as those paid to paramilitary gendarmes and soldiers.

Police deployed in areas considered high risk, such as outside the American embassy, failed to turn up for duty during the strike. They said they were waiting to hear the outcome of the talks.

Tempers are still running high, with many junior police now calling for the resignation of the police minister.

According to local press reports, Interior Minister Emile Boga Doudou avoided sleeping at his home Wednesday because of security fears, preferring to stay at the presidential residence.

Pay talks Monday ended with an angry policeman letting off a tear gas grenade. Some police later went on the rampage and ransacked two armories.

Some of the protesting police have warned they would block the main roads to Abidjan and the city's airport if their demands are not met.

The West African country's only coup erupted after army protests over pay in 1999 and the government is anxious to avoid a similar situation.