Abidjan, Sept 20: Ivory Coast president Laurent
Gbagbo headed home today to tackle a violent but failed coup bid, while government forces in the West African country prepared an offensive against mutineers still holding out.
Gbagbo cut short a state visit to Italy and cancelled an
audience with Pope John Paul II today and vowed strong action against the mutineers, whom he called "terrorists," before leaving Rome.
Government troops crushed an insurgency, which rocked
Abidjan from the early hours yesterday, at a cost of at least
80 lives. Mutineers still controlled the second largest town,
Bouake, in Ivory Coast's cocoa-producing belt.
Defence minister Moise Lida Kouassi told a news agency in Abidjan: “The mutineers are concentrating their forces. We are preparing for an assault" on Bouake, which has a garrison about 400 kms north of the capital.”
The minister, speaking after a special meeting of the
council of ministers, warned of a tough offensive against the
renegade soldiers and ruled out any negotiations with them.
He said over state radio that the rebels had contacted
him for negotiations but stressed that the only item for
discussion as far as the state was concerned was the
conditions of the rebels' surrender.
If this were not done, Bouake "Will be cleaned up before
nightfall", he said. Former military ruler Robert Guei, who
staged Ivory Coast's first coup in December 1999, interior
Minister Emile Boga Doudou and at least 80 government troops
were killed and 150 wounded in the fighting which broke out
early yesterday in Abidjan, Bouake and the northern town of