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Fresh unrest erupts as army press operation aimed at ending a mutiny by soldiers demanding bonus payments.

Gunfire was heard early on Monday in Ivory Coast’s two main cities, according to witnesses, as the  military pressed an operation aimed at ending a mutiny by soldiers demanding bonus payments.

In the commercial capital of Abidjan, shots were heard from two military camps in the east of the city, a nearby resident told the Reuters news agency. Frequent gunshots were also heard in the country’s second city of Bouake.

“I’ve been hearing the sound of Kalashnikovs and a heavier weapon,” one Abidjan resident told Reuters.

“That began at around 5am (05:00 GMT) and it’s lasted an hour. It’s intense,” added the resident who lives near the US embassy and the presidential residence.

“There was heavy shooting at the northern entrance to the city and in the city centre. It’s calmed a bit but we’re still hearing gunfire,” said one Bouake resident. A second resident confirmed the shooting.

Six people were wounded by gunfire on Sunday, and one of three protesters shot and wounded on Saturday in Bouake died of his wounds.

The unrest came as authorities launched a military operation “to re-establish order” after soldiers who staged a mutiny on Friday over bonus payments refused the army’s demand to disarm.

The mutineers, most of them former rebel fighters who fought to bring President Alassane Ouattara to power, sealed off Ivory Coast’s second-largest city, Bouake, and used gunfire to break up protests against the revolt.

 

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Ivory Coast mutiny: Shooting in Abidjan, Bouaké and other cities

A mutinous soldier wearing hood holds a weapon inside a military camp in the Ivory Coast"s central second city Bouake, on May 15, 2017.Image copyright AFP
Image caption The mutinous soldiers say they are not prepared to negotiate

Mutinous soldiers have opened fire in four big cities in Ivory Coast, defying a government order to lay down their weapons.

Shots rang out near the presidential palace in the main city, Abidjan, the second city, Bouaké, and in cities vital to the cocoa industry.

Banks across Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa producer, are shut.

The mutineers, who helped the president take office in 2011, have been locked in a pay dispute with the government.

The former rebels make up about 8,400 of Ivory Coast’s 22,000-strong army.

Pro-government forces have backed off from advancing towards Bouaké, the epicentre of the mutiny, apparently because they want to avoid a fight, reports the BBC’s Tamasin Ford from Abidjan.

A mutinous soldier holds a RPG rocket launcher inside a military camp in the Ivory Coast's central second city Bouake, on May 15, 2017.Image copyright AFP
Image caption The government says it does not have the money to pay the disgruntled soldiers

On Sunday, armed forces’ chief of staff General Sékou Touré vowed to end the mutiny.

An operation had been launched because some soldiers were continuing to disobey orders, he said.

The mutineers said they would fight back if loyalist troops intervened.

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Fears of a military stand-off : Tamasin Ford, BBC News, Abidjan

This is all about the former rebels, now integrated into the army, who fought for years to bring President Alassane Ouattara to power. They brought Ivory Coast to a standstill in January when they launched their mutiny claiming they were due back pay and bonuses from that time.

The government gave in to their demands, promising them $15,500 (£12,000) each. It has paid them $6,500, but not the remaining $9,500, which had been promised at the end of May.

Then in a surprise move on national television on Thursday night, a spokesman for the former rebels apologised, dropping their demands for the rest of the money.

This was clearly news to the protesting soldiers. It is not clear why their spokesman dropped the demand but we know the government is struggling financially. With both sides saying they are not prepared to negotiate, there are fears of a military stand-off.

The mutineers have now changed their demand to severance pay, as they realise they cannot stay in the army after this.

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Mutineers at the army headquarters in Abidjan’s financial district, near the presidential palace, have been shooting in the air, forcing schools and offices to shut, our reporter says.

Gunfire was also heard at the Akouédo barracks, in a suburb where many middle-class Ivorians and expats live, she says.

The mutinous soldiers spilled out on to the roads, causing panic, our reporter adds.

Pro-government forces have responded by closing roads in the city, while French troops have been deployed to guard French-owned transport firm Bolloré, a major investor in Ivory Coast.

Sustained gunfire also broke out at the entrance and centre of Bouaké, which for many years was the main rebel-held city.

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One person was killed by a stray bullet on Sunday after mutinous troops seized control of Bouaké.

Other areas hit by unrest include San Pedro, the biggest cocoa exporting city in the world, and Daloa, a major trading hub in Ivory Coast’s cocoa belt.

“The soldiers are in the streets on foot and on motorbikes. They’re shooting in the air,” Reuters news agency quoted resident Aka Marcel as saying.

It is unclear what impact the unrest will have on the cocoa industry.

Mutinous soldiers stand inside a military camp in the Ivory CoastImage copyright AFP
Image caption Bouaké has been at the heart of the mutiny

Cocoa is the West African state’s main foreign currency earner.

The government is already running short of money because of plummeting cocoa prices, making it difficult for it to meet the demands of the mutineers, our reporter says.

The mutiny has raised fears of a resurgence of the violence seen during Ivory Coast’s 10-year civil war, which ended in 2011.

Pro-Ouattara forces from Bouaké swept into Abidjan at the time, helping Mr Ouattara take office after his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo refused to accept defeat in elections.

Many of the rebels were rewarded for their backing by being given jobs in the army.