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Ivory Coast President Pledges to Put Down Army Uprising - 2002-09-21

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo has pledged to launch an all-out attack on forces, he says were behind an attempted coup that appeared to be assisted from abroad.

In an emotional address on national television, President Gbagbo said loyal troops were facing rebel soldiers armed with heavy weapons that appeared to come from abroad.

He said the well-coordinated mutiny was not a display of anger by a few soldiers, but an attempt to overthrow the government.

In his speech, President Gbagbo appealed to Ivorians' sense of patriotism. He said a mass meeting would be held within the next few days to determine once and for all, "who is who, and who is in favor of democracy." He said the battle is on.

Many residents of Ivory Coast fear his rousing speech may incite further attacks on foreigners.

On Friday, paramilitary gendarmes set fire to an area of Abidjan housing thousands of immigrant workers from Burkina Faso and elsewhere. The gendarmes claimed the shantytown, which was near the Agban military camp where fighting broke out on Thursday, could have been housing renegade soldiers.

Earlier, the minister of defense claimed on national radio that columns of reinforcements were coming from Burkina Faso to assist the rebel soldiers. The claim was denied by authorities in Burkina Faso.

The minister said calm had been restored in Abidjan, but that there were still pockets of resistance in the northern town of Korhogo, and in the central city of Bouake. He rejected a call by mutinous soldiers to negotiate on long-standing grievances and said loyalist troops would attack them, if they did not lay down their arms.

President Gbagbo rushed back to Abidjan late Friday evening, cutting short an official visit to Italy.

Fighting broke out in the once-stable West African nation early Thursday morning.

Military sources say there are 270 dead and 300 wounded. The casualties include the Minister of Interior, Emile Boga Doudou, who was killed during an attack on his home early Thursday. Also killed was Ivory Coast's former military ruler, General Robert Guei.

Authorities say the general was responsible for plotting the attempted coup, and claim he was killed during an exchange of fire as he made his way to the national television station.

However, a spokesman for General Guei's political party has denied this, claiming that he and his family were murdered in his home by loyalist troops.

Two other opposition leaders, former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara and former President Henri Bedie, are said to be taking refuge at the French and Canadian embassies.

The political situation in Ivory Coast has been unstable since 1999, when General Guei seized power. He ran the country until elections in October 2000 brought President Gbagbo to power.