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Soldiers Seize Ivory Coast's 2nd-Largest City, Reportedly Demanding Money, Houses

The front of the prefecture of police in Bouake, Ivory Coast, on Friday, where witnesses reported heavy weapons fire.

Officials in the West African nation of Ivory Coast say soldiers have overrun police stations and seized the country's second-largest city, Bouake.

It has been six years since the West African nation emerged from a civil war, during which Bouake was the headquarters of the rebellion.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton said there were also reports of gunfire in two other cities, Daloa and Korhogo, and that it wasn't clear whether the attacks were a mutiny by current or former troops.

As Ofeibea reported for NPR's Newscast unit:

"Troops reportedly seized weapons from police stations and took up positions at the entrance to Bouake. One soldier says former fighters integrated into Ivory Coast's army were demanding bonuses of $8,000 apiece — plus a house. ...

"A statement from Ivorian Defense Minister Alain-Richard Donwahi has called on soldiers to remain calm and return to their barracks, to allow, he says, for lasting solutions to the latest crisis in Ivory Coast, which has recently been burnishing its democratic credentials."

A member of the national assembly representing Bouake, Bema Fofana, told the BBC that "the soldiers did not appear to have a leader or spokesman, making it difficult to negotiate with them," the broadcaster reported, and that "most of the soldiers were former rebels who were integrated into the army after the civil war."

The BBC also reported that a resident who asked not to be identified said soldiers armed with automatic rifles "fired at the offices of the state broadcaster in the city."

"They are heavily armed and parading through the city of Daloa," a student named Karim Sanogo told The Associated Press. "Security forces have abandoned their posts. Everyone has returned home to seek shelter."

Earlier this year, a terrorist attack in a tourist city on the country's coast threatened the fragile peace sought after the civil war. In March, militants from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb killed more than a dozen people at beach hotels, as we reported.

"This country, once an oasis of peace, security, stability and prosperity, is emerging from a devastating decade of political violence and a civil war," Ofeibea reported at the time. "The economy was on the rebound."

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