Businesses and offices in the Ivoirian economic capital, Abidjan, were closed on Tuesday after soldiers demanding increased allowances protested by firing shots in the air.
The Minister of Information, Captain Henri Sama, said the protest began at around 03.00 GMT and was staged by “some soldiers of the Ivoirian army who, for some weeks now, have been demanding six million cfa francs(just under US $9,000) each as war booty”. He did not elaborate.
Speaking on national television at 11:00 gmt, he said such a demand, coming at a time when “the entire Ivoirian population has serious financial difficulties”, was inadmissible, given the “substantial salary increases” the ruling Conseil National de Salut Public (CNSP) had consented to give the soldiers.
Sama described the protest as “apparently a manipulation orchestrated by politicians who want to gain power by any means”. He said the CNSP was calling on the population “to have faith in it and to remain calm” and “pledges to do everything to ensure the security of persons and property”.
“The CNSP is asking the soldiers to go back to the barracks so that a solution to their demands can be found in calm and discipline,” he added.
Minutes after Sama’s televised address, a humanitarian worker saw a civilian vehicle being commandeered by a group of soldiers within walking distance of the IRIN office in Deux Plateaux, just outside central Abidjan.
Many other vehicles, including at least one belonging to an official of a western embassy, were seized earlier in the morning by soldiers. However, Abidjan seemed generally calm.
Streams of pedestrians could be seen on the roads, but there were few vehicles other than a handful of private cars and taxis driven by soldiers in uniform, some of whom wore red bandanas as on the day of the military coup that overthrew President Henri Konan Bedie on 24 December 1999.