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270 Slain as Ivorian Uprising Continues

September 22, 2002|From Times Wire Services

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — Troops loyal to Ivory Coast's president raced northward Saturday to oust rebels from at least two major cities, as state TV said about 270 people had been killed in a 3-day-old uprising.

Prime Minister Affi N'Guessan said a government offensive was imminent. "Our forces are on the move, and we hope in the coming hours that we will see the results on the ground," he told state radio.

On Saturday, rebels were in control of the northern opposition stronghold of Korhogo and the central town of Bouake, 220 miles north of Abidjan, the commercial capital. President Laurent Gbagbo pledged a full-scale battle to remove them, but there were reports that the rebels were widening their power base.

A security official in neighboring Burkina Faso, speaking on condition of anonymity, said rebels had taken control of other northern cities, including Katiola, Ferkessedougou and Ouangolodougou, on the border with Burkina Faso. It was not immediately possible to verify the claim.

Ivory Coast state television said 270 people had been killed and 300 injured in fighting since a failed coup Thursday.

In Abidjan, paramilitary police set fire to a mainly Muslim neighborhood near the scene of fighting Thursday, raising fears that the latest bloodletting was unleashing deadly ethnic, political and religious hatreds in what was once one of West Africa's most stable and prosperous nations.

Frightened residents--many of them workers from Burkina Faso and other Muslim countries who are frequent targets of attacks in Ivory Coast's predominantly Christian south--said paramilitary police were setting fire to their shacks, beating the occupants and leading them away.

Despairing residents of the burning Agban district sat with belongings piled beside them as flames destroyed their homes.

Some residents said the paramilitary police had said they needed to clear the area because rebels had taken refuge there.

Western embassies warned of gangs of government supporters armed with machetes roaming the streets of Abidjan.

Ivory Coast's plummet into chaos began before dawn Thursday. Insurgents, apparently including hundreds of recently sacked soldiers, launched coordinated attacks on military installations, government sites and Cabinet ministers' homes.

Loyalist forces quelled the uprising in Abidjan after 12 hours of fighting that left scores dead on the government side.

Paramilitary police shot and killed the deposed junta chief whom the government accuses in the coup attempt, Gen. Robert Guei, as well as his wife, son and grandchildren.

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