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Gunfire Shakes Ivorian Cities as Soldiers Demand Bonus


A mutinying soldier gestures as he stands guard at the checkpoint of the entrance of Bouake, Ivory Coast, May 15, 2017.

Two Ivory Coast cities were in a state of shutdown Monday as disgruntled soldiers continued firing in the air to demand the government pay them promised bonuses.

Reporters for VOA's French to Africa Service say the shooting in Abidjan and Bouake had stopped by mid-afternoon, but tension remained high, with shops closed down and the streets nearly empty.

A spokesman for the soldiers, speaking from Bouake, told VOA that soldiers are not attempting a coup. He said they simply want President Alassane Ouattara to keep his promise to pay them bonuses of about $20,000 per person.

The spokesman said soldiers have received less than half the money and want the rest paid in monthly installments.

Ivory Coast's defense minister, Alain-Richard Donwahi, said on state-run television late Monday that an agreement with the solders had been reached. However, two spokesmen for the mutineers told Reuters news agency that the proposed deal has been rejected by the soldiers.

Military operation

Ivory Coast has launched a military operation to take back Bouake, where at least one civilian was killed Sunday and reports say more than 20 others were hurt when they ignored warnings from the mutinous soldiers to stay in their homes. The soldiers took over Bouake on Friday.

Residents in Abidjan say the mutiny is affecting their livelihood. One street vendor, Elodie Aya Yao, said she went to the street market Monday to try to sell her cakes, but no one was there to shop.

"This morning I was making my cakes. I heard the shooting. I came out anyway, but there is no one around. Who is going to buy my cakes? It's the only means of supporting myself in Abidjan that I have. I have three children. We live off of what I can make selling," she said.

The Ivorian government promised the soldiers bonuses after a short-lived uprising in January, but is having trouble making the payments due to low prices for cocoa, the country's chief export.

Ouattara took office in 2011, after months of post-election violence in which thousands of rebels backed him against troops supporting longtime president Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to concede defeat in the election. Thousands of those rebels were later integrated into the army.

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