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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Heavy gunfire in Ivorian city
Protesters in Ivory Coast
There was unrest ahead of July's local elections
There have been several hours of heavy gunfire on the streets of Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan.

The shooting started before dawn with sustained exchanges of heavy machine-gun fire and mortar barrages in several areas of the city, though latest reports say it has now become sporadic.

Ups and downs
Before 1999 - Relative calm and stability
1999 - Coup; General Guei takes power
2000 - Guei flees after rigging elections;
Gbagbo wins controversial elections
2001 - coup attempt fails
The government says that all strategic points in the city have been secured by loyal troops and they had retaken two key army camps initially held by the mutinous troops. At least five people have died.

Prime Minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan said initially that soldiers disgruntled over their imminent demobilisation were to blame.

But Defence Minister Moise Lida Kouassi then told AFP news agency: "There are indications which show that we are facing a coup attempt".

His house and that of the interior minister were attacked by the armed men. He told AFP that his wife had been kidnapped and he had no news of her.

The prime minister had said that the soldiers, about 750 strong, were demanding "reintegration into the army".

Shooting

An aide to President Laurent Gbagbo, who is on an official visit to Italy, was quoted as saying the situation was under control.

Map of Ivory Coast showing Abidjan
No changes are apparently planned to Mr Gbagbo's itinerary.

Shooting has also been reported in other parts of the country, including the central town of Bouake and northern town of Korhogo.

The defence minister was reported as saying that mutineers in Bouake had killed the central region's army commander.

Background

The suspicions of the defence minister that this was a coup rather than just a mutiny followed the attacks on his home and that of the Interior Minister, Emile Boga Doudou.

Eyewitnesses were quoted as saying that the anti-riot force personnel tried to intervene in the attack on the house but their vehicle was hit by a rocket and crashed.

"We have heard of the problems, we have control of the situation", an assistant to President Gbagbo told Reuters news agency from Rome.

AFP cited presidential aide Alain Toussaint as saying that, "the ringleaders of the mutiny have been clearly identified and will be brought to justice".

Mr Doudou said the government was mounting attacks on two key strongholds of the mutineers, the gendarmerie school and a military camp at Agban, AFP reported.

The former French colony had its reputation as a haven of relative political and economic stability shattered by a coup in 1999 when the military overthrew President Henri Konan Bedie.

Since then, the country has gradually been returning to political normality, although there have been rumours of coup attempts and army unrest.

President Gbagbo came to power after stormy elections in late 2000.

The Ivory Coast, is a major cocoa exporter and has sub-Saharan Africa's third largest economy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Welsh
"The fighting is still continuing"
See also:

03 Jul 02 | Africa
31 May 02 | Africa
27 Oct 00 | Africa
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
03 Jul 02 | Africa
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