Rebel Troops Hold Two Ivory Coast Cities

Rebel troops held two Ivory Coast cities, where residents said mutineers were shooting and handing out guns and uniforms to new recruits Friday -- a day after the government said it quelled a bloody coup attempt.

State-run radio broadcast a statement by hostage Sports Minister Francois Albert Amichia, who was captured Thursday by the renegades in Bouake.

Amichia identified his captors as soldiers whom the government had dismissed in a bid to streamline the army. He said the renegades were asking only to be reintegrated in the armed forces and were ready to negotiate with the government.

Defense Minister Lida Moise Kouassi, speaking on state-run radio and television, said authorities would not to talk to the rebels until they put down their arms.

He said loyalist forces were already gathering in the capital, Yamoussoukro, and would clear out the attackers from the cities they still held if they resisted. The capital was quiet Thursday and Friday.

Paramilitary police said a column of military trucks left the commercial capital, Abidjan, on Friday morning to put down what Kouassi called the "last pockets of resistance" to the north.

"As I told you yesterday, security and tranquility have been totally restored," Kouassi said.

Prime Minister Affi N'Guessan was holding an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss further measures, Kouassi said.

Paramilitary police set fire to dozens of houses around the base in Abidjan where the uprising began, saying they needed to secure the area. Residents fled in panic. Most of them come from neighboring, Muslim countries and are viewed with suspicion by government supporters in the predominantly Christian south.

Fearing he would be blamed for the uprising, opposition leader Alassane Dramane Ouattara sought refuge at the German and later the French Embassy.

"We are afraid for our security," said a senior party official, also in hiding. "They want to implicate us in the coup d'etat."

Kouassi said late Thursday the government put down the uprising in which the deposed junta leader and his family were killed after what the government called his attempt to grab power again.

After hours of heavy gunfire and explosions that also left a Cabinet minister and a number of senior military officers dead, the government said Thursday it had regained control over most of the country.

Residents of the central city of Bouake, however, cowered in their homes after the renegades took over police and military bases in the uprising that began before dawn Thursday in at least five cities and towns.

Witnesses said Friday mutineers had disarmed loyalist troops inside the bases and seized their uniforms, which they were handing out to new civilian recruits.

In the northern city of Korhogo, an opposition stronghold, renegade soldiers handed out guns to civilians and cruised the city in commandeered vehicles, firing into the air. Loyalist troops were tied up inside their captured bases, according to wives and children, who were released by the renegades.

President Laurent Gbagbo, his state visit to Rome cut short by the attempt to oust him, returned home Friday after the reopening of the international airport. Gbagbo sped from the airport in a private car, escorted by 12 armored cars with mounted guns.

"Loyalist forces have come out on top," Gbagbo said Thursday in a statement from Rome.

Paramilitary police said a column of military trucks left the commercial capital, Abidjan, Friday morning to put down what Defense Minister Lida Moise Kouassi called the "last pockets of resistance."

Sporadic gunfire was heard overnight in Abidjan, but the city was calm Friday. Authorities reopened the international airport and urged residents to return to work. But the streets remained largely deserted, and many businesses stayed closed. Bullet-torn bodies lay before the city's largest paramilitary police camp, strewn in front of a destroyed tank and other damage from the fighting.

A 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. curfew remained in effect across the country.

Gbagbo's government has been struggling to calm lingering ethnic and political tension and a restive military since the once-stable country's first-ever coup in 1999.

The insurgents struck the homes of the president and two Cabinet ministers, military barracks and other sites across Abidjan. Interior Minister Emile Boga Doudou was killed, presidential aide Toussaint Alain said in Rome.

Gen. Robert Guei, the former junta chief accused of a role in the uprising, was gunned down when loyalist paramilitary police opened fire on his vehicle in downtown Abidjan after the driver refused to stop, paramilitary police Sgt. Ahossi Aime said.

Paramilitary police also attacked Guei's home, killing his wife, son and grandchildren, two other officers said on condition of anonymity.

Kouassi later accused Guei of instigating a coup attempt. The ex-junta leader's body lay in a morgue after the uprising, with a single bullet hole in the head.

At least 10 rebels and seven paramilitary police were also killed in the fighting.

In France, Ivory Coast's former colonial ruler, Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Friday that authorities in the Ivory Coast had not requested France's help.

"For the moment, it is a purely an internal affair in the Ivory Coast," Alliot-Marie told LCI television.

Ivory Coast's standing as one of West Africa's most stable and prosperous nations was shattered with the December 1999 coup that brought Guei to power.

The takeover ushered in three years of military uprisings, ethnic fighting and political strife.

Guei, with a base of loyalists in the west of the country, had been a source of continued unease amid persistent fears of more coup attempts in the shaky nation.