Ivory Coast launches military campaign to stem mutiny

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In Abidjan, gunfire has been heard near the presidential palace and the U.S. Embassy, while in Bouake, at least one major entrance into the city has been barred by soldiers.

But a large military convoy arrived in the town of Tiebissou, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Bouake, on Sunday afternoon, a witness said.

The mutineers, a lot of them former rebel fighters who fought to bring President Alassane Ouattara to power, had sealed off Bouake and used gunfire to break up protests against the revolt, which began when a spokesman for the group dropped demands for extra pay promised by the government during negotiations to end a previous mutiny in January.

The government said it would not negotiate with the disgruntled soldiers.

Mutinous soldiers who have taken control of Bouake, Ivory Coast stand at a checkpoint in the city.

They were due to receive a further payment this month and several thousands of mutineers had been unhappy they were not consulted when on Thursday a spokesman for the group said they would drop their demands for the remaining money.

Ivory Coast is the world's biggest cocoa producer, and it is the West African state's main foreign currency earner.

On Monday, Ivory Coast's banking association ordered all banks to stay closed "for security reasons", according to one bank official quoted by Reuters news agency.

The mutineers said they would not surrender.

Reporters for VOA's French to Africa Service say the shooting in Abidjan and Bouake had stopped by mid-afternoon, but tension remained high, with shops closed down and the streets almost empty.

"We don't know if the delegates who were sent to Abidjan (for the ceremony) betrayed us, if they are corrupt or if they were taken hostage over there", said Sergeant Yacouba Soro, one of those protesting in Bouake. Shooting in both cities intensified before dawn.Heavy shooting was also heard in Daloa, a hub for the western cocoa growing regions, on Monday."I've been hearing the sound of Kalashnikovs and a heavier weapon".

Another protest was also broken up by the mutineers in the northern city of Korhogo on Sunday, participants said, though there were no immediate reports of casualties there. "But we can't give up now that we've reached this point".

Ouattara Mamadou, a spokesman for a group of demobilized rebels participating in Sunday's march, said one person is in the morgue and others have been hospitalized.

Several schools near the camp did not open and the Abidjan-based African Development Bank, which employs several thousand people, many of them worldwide staff, told its employees to stay home.