Uprising was a failed coup d'etat, says government

The armed uprising in Cote d'Ivoire on Thursday morning was a failed coup attempt against the government of President Laurent Gbagbo, a public statement from Minister of Defence Moise Lida Kouassi said.

Meanwhile, the security minister of neighbouring Burkina Faso, Djibril Bassolet, said in the capital, Ouagadougou, that his country had beefed-up border security "to prevent any infiltration of elements who may be hunted down from Cote d'Ivoire."

Bassolet denied media reports attributed to Kouassi that some mutineers drove into Cote d'Ivoire from Burkina Faso.

In Abidjan, loyalist forces were able to suppress the fighting by Thursday afternoon, but sporadic gunfire was however heard again during Thursday night and early Friday morning.

The Ivorian government said the coup attempt was plotted by former president General Robert Guei, who was killed in Abidjan, on Thursday morning.

Other reports said that at least 12 people were killed, including the Minister of the Interior, Emile Boga Doudou. There were unconfirmed reports of some fatalities in an attack on Guei's home in Abidjan.

Two towns in the central and northern regions, Bouake and Korhogo, remained under the control of mutinous soldiers by Friday afternoon, according to sources in Cote d’Ivoire. The mutineers still held Sports Minister Francois Amichia and his wife, they said.

Media reports quoted the mutineers as saying they would not surrender. The government of Cote d’Ivoire has given mutineers a Friday 16.00 GMT deadline to surrender or face an assault.

Missionaries in Bouake told IRIN after the deadline that "a good amount of shooting started after 1500 GMT". Other sources said the government had launched an offensive to flush the rebels out of the two towns.

Several regional football teams - including those of Senegal, Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Cape Verde - were said to be trapped in The Ran Hotel in Bouake. They had arrived to play in a regional soccer tournament a day before the violence started.

Diplomatic sources said heavy movement of loyalist troops towards Bouake and Korhogo was seen on Friday afternoon.

The Ivorian government said it hoped France – the former colonial power and a powerful influence in the region - would intervene "should the crisis last and should it be proven that foreign elements are involved."

President Gbagbo was expected back in the country on Friday evening from Italy, where he had been on a state visit.

In Abidjan, an urgent cabinet meeting was called on Friday morning by the Prime Minister Pascal Affi N'Guessan. It was still going on by afternoon.

Kouassi also announced that opposition leader Alasane Ouattara was safe in his house and guarded by the national army. Another former president, Henri Bedie, was also reported safe in his house.

Some shops opened in Abidjan on Friday, but a curfew remained in place from 1800 GMT to 0800 GMT local time. Air France announced its flights from Paris would arrive in the late afternoon.

There was hardly any traffic on the roads, though national radio and television continued to broadcast music and government assurances that the situation was under control.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the apparent coup attempt.

"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by reports of armed attacks by elements of the armed forces of Cote d'Ivoire in various parts of the country. [He] is particularly saddened by the loss of life that has ensued," a spokesman for Annan stated.

Annan called on "all those involved in these attacks to immediately and unconditionally cease their activities and submit to the constitutional order". He urged all concerned parties to refrain from any action that could worsen the situation.

The African Union's Amara Essy, the South African and the Algerian governments also condemned the incident and called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis.