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Ivory Coast soldiers shoot in air in Bouake over bonus pay dispute

Ivory Coast soldiers.Soldiers in Ivory Coast's second city Bouake fired their guns into the air on Friday to protest a deal over bonus payments that their colleagues made with the government in the commercial capital Abidjan, witnesses said.

On Thursday thousands of soldiers who mutinied earlier this year in Ivory Coast, paralysing the country and dealing a blow to its post-war success story, agreed to drop their demands for further bonus payments, a spokesman for the group said.

The pledge, if honoured, would greatly ease pressure on government finances already squeezed by a steep decline in world cocoa prices and earlier payments to the mutineers. But some of the soldiers criticized the agreement and said they were not informed of it in advance.

The representative for the group, whose name was given only as Sergeant Fofana, apologised on behalf of the soldiers during a meeting with President Alassane Ouattara in the commercial capital Abidjan.

He thanked the president for the earlier bonuses and the promises to improve the soldiers' living conditions.

"Given such sacrifices granted to us during this difficult time, we, soldiers ... definitively renounce all financial demands," Fofana said in a statement broadcast on state television.

Ivory Coast has emerged from a 2002-2011 conflict as one of the world's fastest growing economies, catching the eye of foreign investors. However, the mutinies exposed that deep divisions persist, particularly in the ranks of a military assembled from ex-rebel and loyalist fighters.

Soldiers, mostly former rebels who battled for years to bring Ouattara to power, seized control of the second biggest city, Bouake, in a January uprising that quickly spread, forcing the government to capitulate to some demands.

The government paid the 8,400 troops bonuses of 5 million CFA francs ($8,370) each.

But citing the revenue crunch caused by the slumping price of cocoa, Ivory Coast's chief export, it asked to delay until this month the start of staggered monthly payments of an additional 7 million CFA francs, the soldiers said.

"I appreciate these words of wisdom and maturity," said Ouattara, who shook hands with Fofana following his declaration. "I congratulate you because Ivory Coast is experiencing a very, very difficult period."

However, other members of the mutiny who had remained in Bouake were not informed ahead of the announcement, raising the prospect that some soldiers might reject the deal.

"This is not what our people should have said," said one of the mutiny leaders who was not part of the delegation that met with Ouattara. "We didn't discuss giving up the money. We don't know what's happened over there, but people aren't happy."


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