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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
Mutiny caps years of Ivorian instability
Central Abidjan
A rich city once again the scene of fighting

The heavy gunfire which erupted in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan on 19 September was the latest violent upsurge in more than three years of political instability.

Two weeks later, the motivations for the uprising remain uncertain, though representatives of the rebels told the BBC they were fighting dictatorship and had been treated as "slaves" by the government.

Ivory Coast timeline
1960 - independence
1990 - opposition parties legalised and Houphouet-Boigny wins multiparty elections
Houphouet-Boigny dies and is replaced by Konan Bedi
1995 - opposition parties boycott election
1999 - military coups puts Robert Guei in power
2000 - Uprising follows October elections and Gbagbo becomes president
2001 - attempted coup put down

This uprising is indicative of the political divisions which have been translated into periodic coups or coup attempts and popular uprisings, since the military first intervened directly in Ivorian politics on Christmas Eve 1999 to overthrow the elected government of Henri Konan Bedie.

That brought to an end 39 years of stability and, by African standards, sustained economic growth and development.

The country achieved independence from France in 1960 under the leadership of Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

He stressed the need for economic growth and good relations with France, which maintained a military base in the country.

The president ruled the country for 33 years, until his death in 1993. Under Mr Houphouet-Boigny Ivory Coast was stable but there was little real democracy and for much of his 33 year rule, the president maintained a one-party state.

The coup, which came six years after the president's death, marked the start of a descent into political conflict marked by divisions between northerners and southerners, Muslims and Christians.

Popular uprising

The brief period of military rule was brought to an end in October and early November 2000, following a popular uprising by Ivorians against the military ruler Robert Guei, who had tried to claim that he had won presidential elections in October.

The uprising brought to power Laurent Gbagbo, who was widely believed to have won the elections called by General Guei.

Protesters in Ivory Coast

But the election had generated political violence between southern Ivorian, mainly Christian supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and supporters of the other main political leader, Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim from the north of the country.

Mr Ouattara had been excluded from standing in the elections after it was declared that he had not been born a citizen of Ivory Coast - in June this year, his citizenship was finally restored.

Failed coup

The popular support for the end of military rule did not end the political violence and growing instability.

In January 2001, there was an attempted coup by opposition elements within the army and in February of that year, an opposition politician was charged with illegal possession of arms and of plotting to destabilise the country.

Throughout the year there was high political tension and accusations by Mr Ouattara's supporters that the government was using ethnic and regional tensions to strengthen its own position and harass opponents.

President Laurent Gbagbo
President Gbagbo gets his support mainly from the south

The human rights group Amnesty International accused the government's security forces of extra-judicial killings of northern opponents - though Ivorian courts acquitted eight gendarmes accused of killing people from the north.

In 2002, there were attempts by the president, Mr Ouattara and the former military leader, Robert Guei to calm things down but this had little effect.

Robert Guei still commanded the loyalty of some sections of the army, particularly those recruited during his period in power - some of whom were thought by journalists in Abidjan to be involved in Thursday's fighting.

In May this year, six people were sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for their roles in the coup attempt of 2001.

But instability remained and in June there were violent clashes in the central town of Daloa between supporters of the president's party and those of Mr Ouattara's Rally of the Republicans (RDR).

Tension was high during district elections in July - won by Mr Gbagbo's Ivorian Popular Front party - and the latest uprising is another indication that little has been done to heal the wounds inflicted on the country by years of regional and political conflict.

See also:

19 Sep 02 | Africa
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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