Mutinying soldiers entered Ivory Coast’s military headquarters and fired into the air inside the compound housing the defense ministry on Saturday, a diplomatic source said, and the defense minister sought to negotiate an end to their two-day revolt.
The uprising began early on Friday when disgruntled soldiers – mainly former rebel fighters – demanding wage increases and bonuses seized Bouake, the second-largest city, then spread to at least four other cities and towns later in the day.
Residents and soldiers reported shooting in Man, Toulepleu, Bondoukou and Abidjan, a city of nearly 5 million residents where the president, administration and parliament are based.
“There’s a lot of shooting in the air inside the ministry of defense,” said the diplomatic source who saw and spoke to the mutineers. “It’s in the hands of the bad guys.”
Rogue soldiers had also erected makeshift barricades around the nearby military headquarters, the source said.
President Alassane Ouattara was visiting neighboring Ghana for the swearing-in of its new president, after which he returned to Abidjan in the afternoon for a special cabinet meeting.
Saturday saw the revolt rapidly gain momentum as angry soldiers took to the streets in town after town, often firing their guns in the air and warning residents to return home.
Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi traveled to Bouake on Saturday in an attempt to negotiate with the mutiny’s leaders and quell the uprising.
“I came, as promised, to meet with our brothers. I am there to reassure them, as the president asked me to,” Donwahi said before meeting with leaders of the revolt. “We are going to listen and find a solution.”
Ivory Coast – French-speaking West Africa’s largest economy – has emerged from a 2002-11 political crisis as one of the continent’s rising economic stars.
However, years of conflict and a failure to reform its army, thrown together from a patchwork of former rebel fighters and government soldiers, have left it with an unruly force hobbled by internal divisions.