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Gunfire Still Reported in Ivory Coast after Thursday's Failed Coup - 2002-09-20

Sporadic gunfire continues in the West African nation of Ivory Coast, a day after the government appeared to have put down an attempted coup by rebellious soldiers. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo was out of the country at the time but returned home from Europe Friday to a find pockets of resistance still battling loyal troops in some areas.

President Gbagbo returned home late Friday to deal with an army revolt that his government still has not been able to completely put down. Calm has been restored to the country's largest city, Abidjan, where Thursday's uprising began, but scattered outbursts of gunfire could still be heard with soldiers reportedly tracking down rebellious troops involved in Thursday's mutiny.

The country's opposition leader Alassane Ouattara has taken refuge inside the French ambassador's residence after his home and the homes of other members of his party were attacked by loyalist troops.

"My residence was attacked by armored car and tanks yesterday afternoon," he said. "Every time soldiers came, they came to loot the house, they camp with empty trucks to move things out of the residence. I hope they are undisciplined soldiers and that now they are under control and that this would not continue."

He told VOA he was left to believe the government still may not be in control of all elements of the military.

"Unfortunately, it continued again this morning while I had spoken several times to the minister of defense, to the chief of staff of the army and the paramilitary," said Mr. Ouattara. "I hope they have now gained control of their security forces."

President Gbagbo told reporters on his return that the coup attempt has now been put down. But fighting was still reported in two towns, Bouake and Korhogo, where troops angry about the possibility of being dismissed from service were still said to be holding out.

Ivory Coast's communication minister Sery Bally emphasized reinforcements are on their way to Bouake and appealed to rebellious soldiers to end their mutiny. "I can understand that some soldiers have grievances, are frustrated, but there are ways for them to express that," he said. "I think some serious discussions will have to take place to understand the origin of the crisis and then see where we go from here."

Ivory Coast is a former French colony that is the world's largest cocoa producer. It's long been considered an oasis of stability in a turbulent region of Africa and one of the few countries on the continent to have never experienced a coup. All that changed in 1999 when army general Robert Guei seized power leading to a period of political turbulence that continues to this day. The general, along with the country's interior minister, were among a number of senior military officers were killed in Thursday's mutiny.