Gunfire was heard in several Ivory Coast cities for a second day as military officials prepared to meet soldiers demanding pay and bonuses. The violence was akin to a 2014 strike where former rebels made similar demands.
The apparent "mutiny" over higher wages and bonuses appeared to gain momentum on Saturday after gunfire erupted inside Ivory Coast's military headquarters and the compound housing the defense ministry.
"There's a lot of shooting in the air inside the ministry of defense," a diplomatic source told Reuters. "It's in the hands of the bad guys."
Gunfire was also heard in Bouake, seized by disgruntled soldiers on Friday, as well as in the western city of Man and at least three other cities and towns, witnesses said.
Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi traveled to Bouake on Saturday in a bid to negotiate with the mutiny's leaders and end what he called a "deplorable" situation.
"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."
President Alassane Ouattara, who is currently in Ghana for the swearing in of the country's new president, was expected to return to the economic capital, Abidjan, by the end of the day for a cabinet meeting.
Reminiscent of the 2011 uprising
Violence erupted in three different parts of Ivory Coast on Friday, according to local residents and army officers. Gunfire was heard at military installations in Bouake and the coastal town of Daloa in a mutiny by young former soldiers demanding cash payments.
"It's a mutiny by former fighters integrated into the army who are demanding bonuses of 5 million CFA francs ($8,000) each, plus a house," one soldier told French news agency AFP, referencing militants who were allowed to join the regular army after a brief 2011 civil war.
In Bouake, the ex-soldiers reportedly took over police stations and set up positions at the entrances to the city. Businesses remained closed and residents stayed inside their homes. Army officials in the capital, Abidjan, said they had sent reinforcements.
Hours later, reports followed that similar clashes had broken out in Daloa, Daoukro and the northern city of Korhogo. These attacks were also concentrated around military camps, forcing some security services to abandon their posts.
Relative stability under Ouattara
The world's top cocoa grower had returned to relative stability under President Alassane Ouattara, whose victory over former leader Laurent Gbagbo prompted the 2011 uprising. Former rebels were allowed to join the army and Gbagbo was arrested and sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to face charges of crimes against humanity, including rape and murder.
While the nation has made solid economic progress under Ouattara, he has been criticized for eschewing a national reconciliation after the violence that saw 3,000 people killed and for allowing the country to grind to a halt during a 2014 strike by 9,000 former rebels turned regular soldiers. At that time, the ex-militants were also demanding more pay and promotions.
Ivory Coast Corporal Bamba Losseni said soldiers tried make their discontent known to authorities in other ways, but without success.
"The government does not respond to our different calls," he said, "while we need money to feed our families."
shs, nm, es/sms,se (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)