Soldiers launched mutinies in three cities across Ivory Coast on Friday, authorities said, demanding higher pay and bringing the threat of unrest back to Africa’s fastest-growing economy.
Gunfire rang out across Bouake, the second-largest city in this West African nation, starting around 1 a.m., according to residents. Similar mutinies erupted later in Daloa, in the central region, and Korhogo in the north.
“They are heavily armed and parading through the city of Daloa,” said Karim Sanogo, a student who lives there. “Security forces have abandoned their posts. Everyone has returned home to seek shelter.”
The armed men also controlled the main arteries of Bouake that are used by truck drivers to carry merchandise from Mali and Burkina Faso. This former French colony’s reputation as a model of political stability in a region better known for conflict was shattered after its first coup in 1999.
The crisis reached rock-bottom in 2002, when fighting erupted in skyscraper-lined Abidjan. That was the start of a civil war that ended months later in a stalemate that left rebels in control of the northern half of the country, with their stronghold in Bouake.
A breakthrough came in 2007 with a peace deal that saw rebel leader Guillaume Soro appointed prime minister in a unity government.
The soldiers, however, now say not all the promises made in that 2007 agreement were implemented. In more recent unrest, some 3,000 people died in violence after longtime President Laurent Gbagbo lost the 2010 presidential election and then refused to cede power to victor Alassane Ouattara.
After a military intervention, Ouattara became president and Gbagbo now faces charges at the International Criminal Court. France has a military presence in Ivory Coast, with most of its 900 troops stationed in and near Abidjan. It was not immediately known whether the Ivory Coast government had asked for their help Friday in calming the situation, as it has in the past.