COTE D'IVOIRE: Military coup announced
Abidjan, 24 December 1999 (IRIN) - Soldiers in Cote d'Ivoire announced on radio and TV on Friday that President Henri Konan Bedie had been deposed and parliament dissolved, and that a curfew would be imposed from 21.00 to 0500 Hrs starting on Friday night.
According to radio reports, the soldiers, who had begun a mutiny on Thursday, also went to the MACA, the main penitentiary in Abidjan, and freed the leaders of one of Cote d'Ivoire's main opposition parties.
The mutineers' spokesman, General Robert Guehi - described by another member of the military as the "new president of the republic" - said on radio that the soldiers had met Bedie to discuss their grievances, which were both political and military, but the meeting ended abruptly after no common
ground could be reached.
"They consider that from now on President Henri Konan Bedie is no longer president of the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire," he said. "A Comite de Salut de la Republique (Committee for the Salvation of the Republic) will be set up and its composition will be communicated to you in the coming hours or days".
Bedie became Cote d'Ivoire's second president in 1993, at the death of Felix Houphouet Boigny.
The other member of the military read out a number of instructions for the public, including the imposition of the curfew "until further notice". "All institutions of the republic are forthwith suspended," he said, adding: "This takeover has been done on behalf of the Ivoirian people and to restore the dignity of the soldiers, which has been scorned for a long tme."
The first signs that someting was afoot came on Thursday morning when bands of soldiers drove around Abidjan shooting in the air. They took over state television and also the state-owned radio station, where equipment was reportedly damaged and which has been off the air since early Thursday afternoon. They then commandered private vehicles and, according to various
reports, pillaged at least one supermarket and seized food and gas from restaurants and service stations respectively.
On Friday, abandoned cars, some of them damaged, could be seen here and there on the streets of Le Plateau, Abidjan's central business and administrative district. There was virtually no vehicular traffic in the normally bustling city centre except for cars driven by the military. Businesses were closed and the handful of passers-by on the deserted pavements were a far cry from the crowds of shoppers that usually grace Le Plateau's streets on Xmas Eve.
Some reports had it that the protest had been staged by former peacekeepers angered that they had not been paid after serving in the Central African Republic, although a usually reliable source told IRIN there had been a failed coup attempt in the early hours of Thursday morning.
In his announcement, Guehi said the mutineers had two main grouses. "There are specifically military problems with regard to the restoration of their dignity, i.e. improving their equipment, salary increases ... Other problems are political since they asked for the liberation of the people who are now detained at the MACA for reasons of a political nature."
The secretary-general of the opposition Rassemblement des Republicains (RDR), Henriette Diabate, and other senior members of the party were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to two years in November, less than a year before presidential elections billed for October next year .
They were convicted, by virtue of a law that renders organisers of demonstrations responsible for damage caused during such protests, following a sit-in held in late October to protest against anti-opposition bias on the state media.
The sit-in was one of a series of protests organised by the RDR, whose leader - former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara - has been barred from contesting next year's election by the state, which maintains that he is not of Ivoirian origin, a claim he has denied.
The news of the overthrow was greeted with loud cheering on Abidjan's streets. In Le Plateau, a convoy of soldiers in about 15 to 20 vehicles could be seen driving through the streets firing into the air. In another neighbourhood, II Plateaux, young men jumped onto the bonnets and tops of the few 'woro woro' (collective taxis) on the streets, cheering and waving
Guehi said Bedie was at his residence which had been surrounded by the mutineers so as to "protect" the head of state, but a report on CNN had it that he had sought refuge in the residence of the French ambassador and had ordered his loyalists to crush the rebels.