Calm returns to I Coast streets as soldiers’ demands met

BOUAKÉ: Ivory Coast’s mutinous soldiers withdrew from the streets of the second city Bouake on Sunday after the president announced a deal on their demands for bonuses, pay rises, housing and faster promotion. “There has been no firing since Saturday night,” a correspondent in Bouake said. “Traffic has resumed this morning and the shops have reopened.” The world’s top cocoa producer was rocked by two days of unrest after soldiers seized control of Bouake’s streets early on Friday, firing rocket-launchers and terrifying residents, in a mutiny that spread to other cities including the economic capital Abidjan.

In Abidjan — a bustling seaport that is home to the presidency and parliament —national television reported that shots had been fired at the eastern Akouedo barracks on Saturday morning. On Sunday, Abidjan’s central Plateau area where several government offices and leading businesses are located, was calm. “Life is back to normal,” a resident said. The same was true for the northern city of Korhogo and Man in the west. A Man resident, who identified himself as Jean, said: “The soldiers have returned to their barracks.”

On Saturday evening, President Alassane Ouattara announced an agreement had been reached. In a brief televised address he said it took into account “the demands relating to bonuses and improving the living conditions of soldiers”. “Having given my agreement, I ask all soldiers to go back to their barracks to allow decisions to be carried out calmly,” he added, without giving any details of the accord. The soldiers had detained Defence Minister Alain Richard Donwahi on Saturday for two hours in a tense standoff over their demands, firing Kalashnikovs and heavy arms around the home of a senior local official where Donwahi was meeting with the soldiers’ representatives.

Shortly after Donwahi’s release, troops lifted the barricades that had blocked entry to Bouake and the automatic rifle fire that had rattled all through the previous night and into Saturday fell silent. Bouake was the capital of a rebellion which erupted in 2002 in a failed attempt to oust then president Laurent Gbagbo. Twelve years later, a similar dispute over pay by rebels-turned-soldiers erupted in Bouake which spread to Abidjan and briefly brought the country to a standstill. — AFP