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Former rebels block entrance to Ivory Coast's second city

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Several hundred ex-rebels block access to Bouake, their former stronghold in central Ivory Coast, on May 8, 2017 to press pay demands after a mutiny in January that led to a deal. / AFP PHOTO / STR

Several hundred ex-rebels on Monday blocked access to Ivory Coast’s second city Bouake, their former stronghold, seeking thousands of euros in bonuses in line with a deal following a deadly January mutiny.

Security forces were deployed to monitor the upheaval, which caused a tailback of about 100 vehicles outside the main southern entrance to the city, but the former rebels started letting cars in in the afternoon as they began negotiations with local authorities.

Most shops in the city, a commercial and transport hub in the centre of the west African country, however remained closed.

Unlike the mutineers who caused trouble in several towns, Monday’s protesters have not been integrated into the army and carried no weapons. They are known locally as “the demobilised”.

“We want our piece of the cake,” shouted men wearing the red armbands of the New Forces rebellion.

The New Forces occupied the north of the world’s top cocoa producer from 2002 to 2011 and backed current President Alassane Ouattara against the stubborn incumbent Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to quit power despite losing an election.

Security forces were deployed to monitor the upheaval, which caused a tailback of about 100 vehicles outside the main southern entrance to the city, but they did not intervene, an AFP journalist saw.

“We want 18 million CFA francs (27,400 euros / $30,000) per person, the recognition of our rank of corporals and our integration into the army,” a spokesman for the demobilised men, Amadou Ouattara, told AFP.

After January’s uprising by rebels already integrated in the army, the authorities handed out bonuses to 8,500 mutineers, provoking a wave of anger among fellow soldiers and paramilitary gendarmes who protested in turn.

Ensuing clashes in the political capital, Yamoussoukro, claimed four lives.

A source close to the mutineers at the time claimed that the government had promised to give 12 million CFA francs (18,000 euros) to each man, starting with a payment of five million CFA francs to be followed by further settlements from May.

The government vowed to restore calm with a promise to “improve the standard of living” throughout the security forces, but it has released no details of any financial pledges.

Last year, Ivory Coast launched an ambitious plan for the modernisation of the military, including an overhaul of personnel as well as purchases of materiel worth 1.2 billion euros.

Part of the plan provides for the departure of several thousand men, particularly ex-rebels, who will not be replaced.

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