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Ivory Coast Coup Rumors Spread

June 23, 2000

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Rumors of a coup caused a brief panic in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Thursday, as shops closed and residents rushed home.

Communications Minister Henri Cesar Sama went on national television in the afternoon to tell the country that the rumors were false and to appeal for calm.

``I want to reassure the population and say that at no point was there a threat to the people or their possessions, far less an attempted coup d’etat,″ Sama said.

The scare came amid mounting political and ethnic tensions in this West African country, which until a Dec. 24 military coup had long been one of the continent’s most prosperous and stable countries.

Soldiers told employees at the national television station that they had received word of a planned attack and instructed them to evacuate the building, Ivorian Radio and Television director George Aboke said.

He had no further details, but a soldier at the scene said on condition he not be named that an army faction had planned a takeover. His claim could not be independently verified.

In the downtown business district, shops and businesses closed and people rushed home.

Soldiers in armored personnel carriers _ many of them smiling and waving _ patrolled the streets and watched over key buildings, including the national radio and television stations.

Within hours, however, calm had been restored and employees headed back to work. There were no arrests, security officials said.

Although the December coup was initially popular with Ivorians who had grown tired of corruption and ethnic favoritism under ousted President Henri Konan Bedie, many have grown disillusioned with the new regime.

Opposition politicians now accuse junta leader Gen. Robert Guei of stirring up hatred of foreigners, who make up about a third of the country’s population.

There is also dissatisfaction within army ranks, where junior officers say they haven’t received the perks they were promised.

Guei has promised elections for Sept. 17 but has not said whether he will run. A May Cabinet reshuffle which brought more officers into the government prompted critics to speculate that Guei was trying to entrench military rule.

International lenders have threatened to withdraw development assistance to Ivory Coast unless it holds elections. The country is among the world’s biggest cocoa and coffee producers but also has one of Africa’s heaviest debt loads.

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