ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Soldiers left their barracks and blocked streets in several towns and cities across Ivory Coast on Friday, including the commercial capital, firing gunshots into the air as their protest over a pay dispute gathered momentum.
The uprising began overnight in Bouake, the second-largest city, before spreading quickly. The soldiers, most of them ex-rebel fighters who helped bring President Alassane Ouattara to power, erected improvised barricades around the national military headquarters and the Defense Ministry, sealing off part of downtown Abidjan.
The National Security Council held an emergency meeting, according to a Defense Ministry source.
The soldiers were revolting over delayed bonus payments, promised by the government after a nationwide mutiny in January but which it has struggled to pay following a collapse in the price of cocoa, Ivory Coast’s main export.
On Thursday, a spokesman for 8,400 soldiers who took part in the January rebellion had said they would forgo demands for more money after meeting with authorities in Abidjan.
“That’s not what they were meant to say,” said one leader of the January mutiny who had remained in Bouake and spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to the Thursday statement.
He said the mutineers would seal off access to Bouake in the evening if authorities failed to respond.
In Abidjan, office workers ran through the streets in the city’s administrative quarter as gunfire rang out.
“This isn’t normal. If there’s a demand to be made, I think it has to be done peacefully,” said Lacine Tia, who works in the city center.
A Reuters witness saw three pickup trucks carrying elite Republican Guard troops, who fired warning shots that pushed the mutineers back inside the military compound. A standoff in the heart of the city ensued.
“They’re definitely putting on a better show of force this time. . . . They’re definitely stronger [than in January],” one Abidjan-based diplomat said of the government’s response to the unrest.
Ouattara, the defense and interior ministers and the security forces’ leadership convened an emergency meeting to discuss the uprising. Neither the defense minister nor the government’s spokesman was available for comment.
Ivory Coast emerged from a conflict that ran for much of 2002 to 2011 as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. But deep divisions persist, particularly in a military assembled from former rebel and loyalist fighters.