Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara says he has reached an agreement with rebellious soldiers to end a brief mutiny Saturday, but the deal appeared to be on the verge of crumbling less than two hours later.
In Bouake, the northern city where the uprising began late Friday, soldiers denounced as insufficient the president's assurances that their financial demands would be met. Firing volleys into the air from Kalashnikov rifles and heavy weapons outside a government facility, a mob of angry soldiers trapped the nation's defense minister and other officials inside the building nuntil late Saturday evening.
In addition to Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi, the mayor of Bouake city, other government representatives and local journalists were among those held hostage, reports from the scene said. Soldiers could be heard shouting that they wanted promised cash bonuses paid immediately, not next week.
After several hours, however, the defense minister and the others were released. Donwahi, who had earlier been quoted as saying the protesters' demands were "understandable but regrettable," headed to the airport immediately and left town.
Earlier Saturday, shooting broke out at a military base in Abidjan, Ivory Coast's commercial capital, and soldiers barricaded key roads there, evoking memories of a nearly identical mutiny by soldiers two years ago. However, amid the tensions in the country's two largest cities, there were no reports of shots being directed at people, or any casualties.
Less than two hours before the outburst by soldiers in Bouake, President Ouattara announced he would meet the rebellious soldiers' demands. He gave no details but asked all members of the military to return to their barracks. National television reported the settlement took into account the mutineers' "demands relating to bonuses and improving the living conditions of soldiers."
Most of the protesters in Bouake are former rebel fighters integrated into the national army since a violent political crisis that divided apart from 2002 until 2011, amid clashes that killed about 3,000 people.
Ivory Coast emerged from that period of conflict as one of Africa's rising economic stars and regained its position as the world's top cocoa producer, but the national army is still a patchwork force of ex-rebels and government soldiers, fraught with internal divisions.
The disorders that began in the northern city late Friday spread quickly to many other parts of Ivory Coast by Saturday, and in most cases they were led by former rebels. Before he traveled to Bouake Saturday, Defense Minister Donwahi discussed the situation in a televised address. "We are emerging from a crisis and our army is being rebuilt," he said.
Ouattara asked for calm and appealed for all troops to end protest actions when he first announced the settlement, but he also criticized the rebellious soldiers' tactics: "I would like to say that this manner of making demands is not appropriate. It tarnishes the image of our country after all our efforts to revive the economy."