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Bullet casings are seen on the ground as policemen stand at the National Police Academy in the Cocody neighborhood in Abidjan, Ivory Coast July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Luc Gnago


By Joe Bavier

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Gunmen, some of them in uniform, attacked the base of an elite security unit in Ivory Coast's main city, Abidjan, killing an officer, stealing weapons and then fighting security forces in another part of the city, defence officials said on Thursday.

The raid, late on Wednesday, follows months of military mutinies. It came hours after the government rejigged top security posts, and two days before an event that will bring in thousands from around the French-speaking world to Ivory Coast.

Shooting broke out at around 9.30 p.m. (2130 GMT) at the national police academy in Abidjan's Cocody neighbourhood and lasted for about an hour, one Reuters witness said.

The academy houses a detachment of the CCDO, a rapid response unit composed of police officers, gendarmes and soldiers that is one of the best-equipped units in the Ivorian security forces.

Defence Minister Hamed Bakayoko told Reuters during a visit to the base early on Thursday that the attack was clearly aimed at seizing weaponry.

"These are saboteurs, men who mount sporadic operations and create a feeling of insecurity, and sabotage the work of the government. They aren't able to hold a position for long," he said.

Bakayoko, previously minister of the interior, was appointed defence minister on Wednesday. The government shake-up was part of an attempt to end successive waves of armed uprisings by members of the security forces demanding bonus payments.

Bakayoko said security forces had fought off the attackers, who fled with stolen weapons.

Spent bullet casings littered the parking lot outside the CCDO base and bullet holes marked the walls inside. An army spokesman said later that one security officer was killed in the initial raid.

Following that attack, a second Reuters reporter heard sustained gunfire near the base of the police anti-riot brigade in the Yopougon neighbourhood in northern Abidjan, which also houses a CCDO unit. Bakayoko said security forces had clashed with the same group of gunmen there.

"We found their vehicle in Yopougon. There was an engagement between our forces and these people, and we found weaponry that was taken here (at the police academy)," he said.

Authorities were trying to determine if any arms were still missing, Bakayoko said.

Witnesses and a police source had reported gunfire in other parts of Abidjan overnight also, but the city was calm by early morning and two attack helicopters were patrolling the skies.

From Friday, Abidjan will host the Jeux de la Francophonie, a 10-day sporting and cultural event when 3,000 Francophone athletes and artists will convene.

(Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly and Ange Aboa; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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