Unrest grows in Ivory Coast as soldiers demand pay

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ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Gunfire erupted Saturday at a military camp near Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan, amid growing unrest in cities in the West African nation involving soldiers demanding pay bonuses, a military source told CNN.

The soldiers involved are former rebels who claim they were promised a salary bonus they never received for their role in bringing President Alassane Ouattara to power after disputed elections in 2010, the military source said.

Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi arrived Saturday in the central city of Bouaké, the stronghold of the soldiers, a day after he said on national television he would try to speak with them to understand their concerns.

The unrest began Friday in Bouaké, but gunfire has since broken out in the cities of Man in the west and Korhogo and Odienné in the north, as soldiers took up positions at the entrance to each city with heavy weapons, the military source said.

The unrest also spread Saturday to Abidjan, where soldiers have set up roadblocks around the neighborhood of Palmeraie.

The soldiers, including some who have been demobilized, say they were each promised 5 million CFA francs ($8,000) and a house for their role in the rebellion that brought Ouattara to power after his predecessor refused to acknowledge his election win.

A government source told CNN on Friday that the government did give salary bonuses to the heads of the rebellion and it was not distributed to regular soldiers — although he did not specify the details of what was paid.

The unrest comes as a political reshuffle in the Cabinet and several government institutions is taking place.

Ivory Coast suffered months of violence following the disputed presidential elections in November 2010. Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent, refused to step down after Ouattara was declared the winner.

Gbagbo was arrested five months later and is on trial at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.

A UN peacekeeping force remains in Ivory Coast, tasked with ensuring the protection of civilians and supporting the government’s efforts to disarm and reintegrate former combatants.

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