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Elite I.Coast troops fire protest shots at two bases
By Christophe KOFFI
Abidjan (AFP) Feb 7, 2017

Ivorian special forces troops fired in the air in towns in the north and south of the country on Tuesday, weeks after soldiers and security forces mutinied over pay in the west African nation.

The gunfire follows deadly protests across the country last month that left four dead, shut down Abidjan port -- one of Africa's biggest -- and disrupted business in the world's top cocoa producer.

The angry troops appeared to be angling for a deal with the government along the lines of one struck with mutinous soldiers in January that offered some of them large one-off lump sum payments.

The first reports of protest action by the elite special forces on Tuesday came from the barracks town of Adiake, east of the commercial capital Abidjan.

There were similar scenes at Tengrela, some 850 kilometres (530 miles) north of Abidjan, near the Mali border, where the special forces have been deployed to counter the jihadist threat.

"There is shooting all over the place. I closed my shop," Adiake resident Mariame Coulibaly told AFP by telephone.

"There are soldiers in the streets" another resident said. "The town is paralysed. The schools have closed, sending all the pupils home".

Adiake is home to a maritime base that trains marine commandos and provides coastal surveillance in an area that shares a border with Ghana.

The special forces also have a base in the area.

Special forces commander Lassina Doumbia was heading to the town to investigate the situation, a defence ministry source told AFP.

- Firing outside school -

In Tengrela, a resident said special forces troops opened fire Tuesday morning in front of a high school.

"My children were scared and came home," one resident called Bemba told AFP. "We don't know why this happened."

The school's headmaster said that the firing had later stopped and that he was asking pupils to return.

Troops first launched a mutiny over pay on January 5.

The initial protests were quelled when the government reached a deal with 8,500 mutineers, agreeing to give them 12 million CFA francs (18,000 euros, $19,000) each.

However more soldiers have since taken to the streets demanding similar bonuses.

Last year Ivory Coast approved an ambitious military planning budget seeking to modernise the army and buy new equipment.

But even that 1.2 billion euros pot would not be enough to offer similar payments to all the country's 23,000 member of the security forces.

The revolt has seen President Alassane Ouattara order major changes in the top security ranks -- the armed forces' chief of staff, the senior commander of the national gendarmerie and the director-general of the police.

The International Monetary Fund said in December that Ivory Coast was on track towards becoming the continent's fastest-growing economy.

The mutinies, however, raised fears the country might slip back into deadly unrest.

A rebellion which erupted in 2002 was a failed attempt to oust then-president Laurent Gbagbo.

The revolt sliced the former French colony into the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south and triggered years of unrest.

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