14 May 2017

Cote d'Ivoire: Six Wounded in Ivory Coast Anti-Mutiny Protest

Six people, including a mother of three, were wounded when renegade soldiers in Ivory Coast opened fire at a protest against an army mutiny in Bouake, according to witnesses.

The mutiny over a pay dispute began in Bouake on Friday, and spread quickly to other cities and towns, mirroring an uprising by the same group in January.

The injured were brought to Bouake's main hospital with bullet wounds early on Sunday. Two other protesters, who had been beaten up, were also being treated.

Sergeant Seydou Kone, a spokesman for the mutiny, confirmed to Reuters news agency that the soldiers had dispersed crowds in Bouake on Sunday but said he was not aware of any injuries.

"The population rose up, but the mutineers quickly dispersed the march with shots," Bouake resident Simon Guede told Reuters.

"Everything is closed. No one is in the streets except the soldiers and a few protesters."

The soldiers, most of them former rebel fighters who fought to bring President Alassane Ouattara to power, cut off access to Bouake on Friday, defying the army chief, who has threatened severe punishment if they did not return to barracks.

The defence minister has vowed not to negotiate with the renegade troops.

Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast, said opposition to the three-day revolt was gathering momentum.

"People were able to organise demonstrations yesterday and today, even in areas held by the rebels," he said.

"It [the government] had earlier deployed security forces and special forces to the main barracks here in Abidjan where things are quiet now, and it has also some presence in Bouake.

"There are reports the government is also making moves to take over all other places that are under rebel control, especially the barracks and other key formations that were occupied by the mutineers."

Protest rallies and marches were held in the cities of Korhogo, Daloa and Abidjan on Saturday.

"We came here to tell them that we don't want this any more in the country ... You got to be a soldier to watch over us, to guarantee our basic rights," Ben Rafik Toure, a government supporter at Saturday's rally in Abidjan, told Al Jazeera.

"Why are you blocking the roads and stopping us from going to school?"

On Sunday morning, mutineers, under pressure from angry truck drivers and travellers, began allowing traffic to circulate in Bouake.

"We have nothing against the population," Kone, the mutiny spokesman, said. "We just want our money. We will be here until the president pays us our money. We control the entrances to the city and we can close them whenever we want."

The soldiers posted at the four main access points to Bouake have also been extorting money from drivers hoping to cross the city, according to AFP news agency.

The mutiny in January ended when the government agreed to pay each soldier 12m CFA francs ($19,950) - a promise it has struggled to keep after a collapse in the price of cocoa, the country's main export.

Ivory Coast emerged as one of the world's fastest-growing economies following a decade-long political crisis ended by a 2011 civil war. But deep divisions persist, particularly in a military assembled from former rebel and loyalist combatants.

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