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Soldiers in CAR coup bid - report

BANGUI, Central African Republic (CNN) -- Soldiers have fired at the Central African Republic president's home in a reported coup attempt, news agencies say.

Shooting was heard early on Monday, and sources close to President Ange Felix Patasse told Reuters that four presidential guards were killed.

Congolese rebel leader Jean Pierre Bemba, who controls territory near the republic's capital Bangui, said Patasse remained in control.

Bemba told CNN he had spoken to Patasse, who had said he and his family had come under attack from 2am (0100 GMT) to 6am (0500 GMT) local time on Monday in Bangui.

An operation was under way to arrest the attackers, Patasse told Bemba.

Witnesses in Bangui told Reuters sounds of clashes appeared to die down in the morning, but occasional bursts of automatic weapons fire could be heard close to the president's residence.

"At least four of the presidential guard are killed but we still do not really know what is going on," said one source close to the presidency, Reuters reported.

Salary arrears

Residents in other parts of Bangui reported seeing at least one civilian killed -- shot in the head and lying on the street -- in the capital of the former French colony, which was destabilised by a series of army mutinies in the early 1990s.

Senior members of the government said they could make no official comment.

The landlocked and impoverished Central African Republic, one of the world's poorest countries despite its diamond mines, has never completely recovered from the mutinies in the 1990s, launched when soldiers were not paid.

The United Nations last year ended a peacekeeping mission it sent in 1999 to replace the French-backed African force that restored order after the mutinies, but U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned in January that peace was in danger.

Civil servants have been on sporadic strike for months to protest against the government's failure to pay up to two years of salary arrears.

Most wages have been left unpaid despite a government promise in March to start paying them and the appointment last month of new Prime Minister Martin Ziguele, who said official salaries would be his priority.







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