Ex-president reported killed in armed uprising

Former Cote d'Ivoire president General Robert Guei was among several people reportedly killed, as an armed uprising on Thursday paralysed various Ivorian cities, including the commercial capital, Abidjan.

General Guei, who led Cote d'Ivoire's first military coup in 1999 and toppled the government of Henri Konan Bedie, was killed on Thursday afternoon in a shoot- out near his home in Abidjan, diplomats told IRIN.

Minister of the Interior Emile Boga Doudou was also fatally wounded and another minister had been taken hostage by the mutineers, the sources said.

An army commander in the central Bouake region, Lt-Col Dagrou Loula, was also reportedly killed during clashes in the morning.

Heavy shooting started in Abidjan at about 04.00 GMT when about 800 soldiers reportedly mutinied. Dressed in jeans and military fatigues, the soldiers were reportedly protesting an impending demobilisation from the army.

Initial reports said "a coup d'etat was in progress", diplomats said. Government installations and the official residences of some ministers, including those of the Interior and Defence, were attacked, they said.

By the afternoon, loyalist forces had regained control of several military units that were earlier over-run by the mutineers, sources said.

The government of Cote d'Ivoire was busy trying to contain the situation, news agencies quoted Prime Minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan as saying.

The streets of Abidjan remained deserted even after the shooting subsided, but with reports of loyalist soldiers manning roadblocks.

The international airport was closed and incoming flights were diverted to Ghana and other neighbouring countries.

President Laurent Gbagbo, who replaced Guei following elections in 2000, was on a visit to Italy when the uprising erupted and cancelled a morning meeting with the speaker of Italy's Chamber of Deputies. News agencies quoted an aide, Alain Toussaint, as saying in Rome that Guei was behind the clashes.

Guei's aides in Abidjan denied the statement.

Thursday's fighting started at a paramilitary police base in Abidjan but spread to other parts of the country, diplomats said, adding that it was too early to tell the level of destruction to property.

Heavy shooting continued on Thursday morning in several areas of Abidjan, including: Riviera, Cocody, where the president lives, Deux Plateaux, the Agban gendarmerie barracks, and Plateau, the business centre of the city, where strategic installations like the national television, radio and presidential offices are situated.

An army garrison was attacked in the northern city of Korhogo, a stronghold of the opposition 800 km north of Abidjan. News reports said at least two dead bodies were seen.

An air base in Bouake and an army base in the northern town of Ferkessedougou, were also reportedly attacked.

By afternoon, fighting was still going on in Korhogo and Bouake, diplomats told IRIN.