Gunfire erupts in Ivory Coast port city

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Heavy gunfire erupted after dark on Wednesday in Ivory Coast’s second port city, San Pedro, residents said, as two weeks of military uprising showed no sign of letting up.

The shooting came hours after the other main port in the commercial capital, Abidjan, reopened following paramilitary gendarmes firing in the air temporarily sealed off access forcing companies, including cocoa exporters, to close down.

President Alassane Ouattara, facing a wave of public sector strikes, ordered his defence minister and military chiefs to hold urgent talks with members of the security forces about their grievances in a bid to quell the instability.

Ivory Coast has emerged from a 2002-2011 political crisis and civil war as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. But the violence, which began with an army mutiny nearly two weeks ago, has exposed festering divisions within the military.

Ivory Coast’s army was cobbled together after the civil war from rebel and loyalist factions. It was not immediately clear who was shooting in San Pedro, an export point for cocoa grown in the fertile west and had until Wednesday remained untouched by the waves of revolts sweeping through much of the country.
“Shooting started at the bus station where I am now,” said taxi driver Hugues Kape, who said he had heard gunfire in two other neighbourhoods as well. “There’s heavy shooting and we are trying to get home.”

A second resident confirmed the gunfire.

PRESIDENT’S PLEA

Earlier in the day in Abidjan, gendarmes – a police force under the authority of the defence ministry – poured out of their base, sealing off entrances to the port and bringing activity to a standstill.

The port reopened later in the day, the port authority said.

Separately, guards in Bouake, the second largest city, also fired weapons in front of the main prison to try to pressure government into paying them more money, a local member of parliament said.

After a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, government spokesman Bruno Kone said: “The President of the Republic … asks all soldiers, gendarmes, police, customs officers, forestry service agents and prison guards to facilitate the return of calm.”

Defence Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi said government was in contact with those involved.
“We are going to regain control of this army so it will truly be at the service of the nation,” he told reporters.

Soldiers – mainly ex-rebels – stormed out of their barracks and seized Bouake on January 6 and the mutiny quickly spread, forcing the government to capitulate to the mutineers’ demands.

The government started making promised bonus payments to disgruntled soldiers this week in line with an agreement to end the mutiny, although the payments have angered rival factions and triggered copycat demands.



Soldiers in other segments of the military revolted in the capital, Yamoussoukro, on Tuesday, leading to clashes in which at least two soldiers were killed.