Heavy gunfire in Ivory Coast as military tries to end mutiny

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The government has already paid 8,400 soldiers, a lot 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.

A spokesman for the mutiny denied that any clashes had occurred in Bouake and said the renegade soldiers were firing in the air to dissuade any advance on the city.

Most of the large column of troops spotted on the road on Sunday evening appeared to have withdrawn.

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.

But society remains deeply divided and a wave of mutinies that began earlier this year has exposed the lack of unity in a military assembled from former rebel and loyalist combatants.

Authorities earlier on Monday said they would maintain a firm line with the mutiny, and that there were no negotiations underway, according to government spokesman Bruno Kone, though lines of communication remained open. "They were wounded and transported to the hospital", said witness Amadou Yeo.

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

"We don't know if the delegates who were sent to Abidjan (for the ceremony) betrayed us, if they are corrupt or if they were taken hostage over there", said Sergeant Yacouba Soro, one of those protesting in Bouake.

The city also served as the rebel headquarters after a failed 2002 coup which split Ivory Coast in half and led to years of unrest.

Mutineers fired bullets and set up roadblocks in both cities, while businesses closed their doors and residents mostly stayed inside their homes. "The banks are closed and so are the cocoa buying businesses", a local businessman said. In the country's commercial center and in several cocoa-producing hubs, disgruntled soldiers broke out weapons and blocked thoroughfares to protest stalled bonus payments and what they view as broken promises from President Alassane Ouattara.

I heard the shooting. That began at around 5 a.m. (1030 IST). One man, a demobilized former rebel fighter, died on Sunday.

In Abidjan, gunfire has been heard near the presidential palace and the U.S. Embassy, while in Bouake, at least one major entrance into the city has been barred by soldiers.

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