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Heavy gunfire erupts in Ivory Coast’s two main cities

Heavy gunfire again erupted on Monday in Ivory Coast’s two largest cities, Abidjan and Bouake, witnesses said, as the military pressed an operation aimed at ending a four-day nationwide army mutiny over bonus payments.

Loyalist troops began advancing towards Bouake, the epicenter of the revolt, on Sunday and sporadic gunfire was

heard overnight there as well as at military camps in Abidjan. Shooting in both cities intensified before dawn.

Heavy shooting was also heard in Daloa, a hub for the western cocoa growing regions, on Monday.

“I’ve been hearing the sound of Kalashnikovs and a heavier weapon. That began at around 5 a.m. (0500 GMT)

“It’s intense,” said one Abidjan resident, who lives near the U.S. Embassy and the presidential residence.

Another Abidjan resident said mutinying soldiers came out of the West African nation’s largest military camp and erected barricades, blocking traffic along one of the main thoroughfares in the east of the city.

“There was heavy shooting at the northern entrance to the city and in the city center.

“It’s calmed a bit but we’re still hearing gunfire,” said one Bouake resident.

A second resident confirmed the shooting.

Mutinous soldiers shot three people on Saturday and cut off access to the second largest city, Bouake, as a revolt escalated over demands for bonus payments.

The revolt began in Bouake early on Friday before spreading quickly, following a similar pattern to a mutiny by the same group in January that paralysed parts of Ivory Coast and marred its image as a post-war success story.

Mutineers seized control of the national military headquarters and defence ministry in the centre of the commercial capital Abidjan on Friday.

They stepped up the pressure on Saturday, blocking roads out of Bouake, the epicentre of January’s uprising, and

protesting around the country, including the northern city of Korhogo, where two men on a motorcycle were shot in the legs as they tried to get through a roadblock manned by the mutineers.

“They shot at them. They were wounded and transported to the hospital,” said witness Amadou Yeo.

In Bouake, soldiers fired on a group of demobilised former rebels seriously wounding one of them, according to their spokesman and a local lawmaker.

Sgt. Seydou Kone, a spokesman for the mutineers, said the ex-fighters, who went through a disarmament programme following the country’s 2011 civil war, were planning their own protest, as they did early this week, and his men had opened fire to stop them.

“We do not want to negotiate with anyone,” said Kone by phone from Bouake in the centre of the country. “We’re also ready to fight if we are attacked.

“We have nothing to lose.”

In a statement on state television late on Friday, Gen. Sekou Toure, the army’s chief of staff, threatened the soldiers with severe sanctions if they did not end the revolt.

Ivory Coast’s defence minister and government spokesman could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

The soldiers were promised bonus payments by the government after the January mutiny but it has struggled to disburse the money following a budget crunch caused by the collapse in the price of cocoa, Ivory Coast’s main export.

Ivory Coast has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing economies following a decade-long political crisis ended by a 2011 civil war.

Deep divisions persist, particularly in a military assembled from former rebel and loyalist combatants.

The government has already paid 8,400 soldiers, most of them former rebels who helped bring President Alassane Ouattara to power, bonuses of 5 million CFA francs (8,400 dollars) each as part of a deal to end the January revolt.

On Thursday, following a meeting with authorities in Abidjan, a spokesman for the group said they would forego demands for remaining bonuses of seven million francs. (NAN)

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