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Soldiers have arrested Malian President and his Prime Minister in what seems to be a coup.
The African Union (AU) in its reaction condemned the coup, calling for the reinstatement of Democratic governance in the country.
Senegal — Mutinous soldiers arrested Mali’s president on Tuesday after storming the West African country’s capital, where protesters filled the streets demanding new leadership at a time of rising extremism and economic turmoil.
The head of the African Union Commission and West African leaders condemned the uprising, calling for the swift release of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, as well as the nation’s prime minister and other top officials.
The 15-country regional bloc known as ECOWAS urged the military to “return to their positions without delay” after a day of chaos in Bamako that included gunfire, blocked roads and burning houses.
Tens of thousands of Malians have flooded the capital of the West African nation in recent months, accusing Keïta of botching the response to a fast-spreading Islamist insurgency while allowing the nation’s economy to crumble.
The coronavirus pandemic further fanned frustrations after state lockdowns pushed many people out of school and work.
More demonstrators took to the streets in the capital Tuesday, cheering for soldiers as they drove by in tactical vehicles. Some sat in the backs of pickup trucks, grinning and waving their guns.
“They have IBK!” people can be heard shouting in videos of the scene, invoking the president’s initials.
Troops check a vehicle in the garrison town of Kati, Mali, on Tuesday during an apparent mutiny.
Troops check a vehicle in the garrison town of Kati, Mali, on Tuesday during an apparent mutiny. (Mohamed Salaha/AP)
Earlier in the day, Mali’s prime minister, Boubou Cissé, acknowledged the “legitimate causes” of his countrymen’s anger Tuesday in a statement and invited the soldiers to talk.
“There is no problem that cannot be solved with dialogue,” he wrote.
The American and French embassieswarned their citizens in Mali to stay home on Tuesday.
“The embassy has been notified of a mutiny in the Armed Forces and troops are on their way to Bamako,” the Norwegian Embassy wrote in an alert.
A French military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, described the scene as a “likely coup” attempt.
France “condemns with the utmost firmness this serious event,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian tweetedTuesday.
Malian soldiers detained the president of the National Assembly and the finance minister, according to local journalists. Troops also closed public squares and erected barricades on roads. Photos circulating on WhatsApp showed the justice minister’s house on fire.
“There is a mutiny, but we do not know what it means yet,” said Mohamed Salaha, a news editor in Bamako. “Everyone is being told to stay inside. Everything is closed.”
Protesters gathered Tuesday around Bamako’s independence monument, many carrying signs that read “Adieu, IBK.”
In the crowd was Ibrahim Dembele, a 31-year-old pot maker, who covered his face with a black scarf to protect against the coronavirus.
“We heard soldiers are rising up against the president,” he said, “and we will stay here until he resigns.”
The chaos bears resemblance to Mali’s last military rebellion, in 2012, which also started with reports of unrest at the Kati army camp north of Bamako.
Soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the capital that March, then declared they had brought down the government of Amadou Toumani Touré.
International outrage followed. The African Union suspended Mali until “constitutional order” returned. Keïta, who was elected in 2013 and again in 2018, vowed to rebuild peace.Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta attends a summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, on June 30, 2020. (Ludovic Marin/Pool/Reuters)
Yet tensions have mounted as the nation grapples with fighters loyal to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The militants emerged eight years ago in the country’s north and have since spilled over the border into Burkina Faso and Niger.
Hundreds of West African soldiers have died trying to vanquish the scourge, which has killed thousands of civilians and rendered much of Mali’s countryside uninhabitable.
Five Malian infantrymen died this month when suspected terrorists ambushed a military convoy in the central region.
Protesters — led by an influential conservative imam, Mahmoud Dicko — invoked the bloodshed as they filled the streets of normally peaceful Bamako this summer, condemning what they call a weak security strategy beset by corruption.
They have also taken issue with the army’s heavy-handed responses in rural communities, which, they say, have led to the deaths of innocent villagers. The president’s office has said that such incidents are under investigation.
Dicko’s June 5 Movement will not stop protesting until Keïta resigns, demonstrators have said.
Other West African leaders have traveled to Bamako to hold peace talks with both parties, including the presidents of Senegal, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria.
The heads of state said they aimed to restore stability. A leadership vacuum in Mali, analysts say, could cause the nations’s extremism problem to spill over into coastal nations as yet untouched by violent insurgency.