Accessibility links

Breaking News

Gunfire Heard in Abidjan as Rebel Soldiers Protest Demobilization - 2002-09-19

Mortar fire echoed through the streets of Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan, hours after authorities claimed to have restored calm and stopped an attempted coup by disgruntled soldiers.

Residents of Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan, were awakened by the sound of heavy gunfire and explosions, apparently coming from two key military camps.

Prime Minister Afi Nguessan said calm was being restored by soldiers loyal to the government, after a section of the army protested at plans to demobilize hundreds of soldiers.

Hours after his statement, shots were still echoing throughout the city and military sources said several people, including an army colonel, had been killed. Witnesses report seeing people in civilian clothes joining in street fighting.

The fighting is not confined to Abidjan, with reports the army unrest has spread to two other military camps, in the central town of Bouake and the northern city of Korhogo.

President Laurent Gbagbo is on an official visit to Italy.

The soldiers are apparently angry that about 750 of them are to be forcibly retired. They were recruited by former military ruler, General Robert Guei, during the country's transition government.

General Guei seized power in a bloodless coup in December 1999, and ran the country until elections in October 2000 restored civilian rule.

Ivory Coast, once considered the most stable country in the West African region, has been trying to return to normalcy. After national reconciliation talks earlier this year, it created a coalition government including ministers from opposition parties.

But General Guei last week ended his party's two-year alliance with the ruling party. And in an outspoken attack on Friday, he slammed the President's attempts at reconciliation as a charade, and accused him of assassinating political opponents.

General Guei also warned President Gbagbo that he "did not have a monopoly on violence".