Mali’s president has announced his resignation and the dissolution of the national assembly on state television, shortly after he and the prime minister were arrested by mutinous soldiers in what the European Union described as an attempted coup.
The president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, and the prime minister, Boubou Cissé, were seized on Tuesday evening after a day of confusion and chaos in a country already facing a jihadist insurgency and mass protests.
Speaking on national broadcaster ORTM just before midnight, a distressed Keita, wearing a mask amid the coronavirus pandemic, said his resignation three years before his final term was effective immediately. “I wish no blood to be shed to keep me in power,” Keita said. “I have decided to step down from office.”His departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in Bamako, the capital of the unstable west African country. “All the Malian people are tired we have had enough,” one demonstrator said.
The UN security council has scheduled a closed meeting for Wednesday to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the UN has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission.
Earlier, a soldier was quoted as telling Agence France-Presse: “We are able to tell you that the president and the prime minister are under our control. We have arrested them at his [the president’s] home.” The statement was confirmed by at least two security sources in Bamako.
The EU described the mutiny as an “attempted coup” and warned that it could destabilise “not only Mali, but the whole region”. UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called for the officials’ release and “the immediate restoration of constitutional order and rule of law”.
But by Tuesday night, troops were moving freely through the streets of Bamako, making it increasingly clear that they were in control.
The unrest began in the garrison town of Kati, about nine miles outside Bamako, where gunfire broke out as soldiers detained senior officers.
The reports of violence at the base immediately prompted fears of a replay of a 2012 mutiny that led to a coup d’etat which opened the way for Islamic extremists and ethnic separatists to exploit the chaos by seizing swaths of territory in the north of the country.
These concerns appear to have been justified. But the scale of the mutiny was not immediately clear, nor the exact intent of those responsible. A European diplomat said a relatively small number of members of the national guard, apparently angered by a pay dispute, had seized a munitions depot, while a French military source said discussions were taking place between Mali’s army command and the mutineers.
Keïta came to power in 2013 and won a second term as president in 2018. But there has been rising anger at government incompetence, endemic corruption and a deteriorating economy. Protesters took to the streets last month when the constitutional court overturned the provisional results of parliamentary elections held in March and April after Keïta’s party had performed poorly.
Keïta had hoped that concessions to opponents and recommendations from a mediating delegation of regional leaders would help stem the tide of dissatisfaction, but the protest leaders have rejected proposals to join a power-sharing government.
There are widespread concerns that any instability will benefit extremists in Mali affiliated with al-Qaida and Islamic State. The insurgents have proved tenacious, growing in strength across the Sahel region despite the intervention of thousands of French forces, teams of US special forces, regional armies and one of the biggest UN peacekeeping deployments in the world.
A coup would be a major setback to French diplomacy in the region. Mali is seen as a linchpin of efforts to secure the Sahel, and Paris has invested heavily there despite the increasing domestic unpopularity of the French military commitment.
An opposition politician in Bamako said Tuesday’s events had come as a complete surprise to him and his colleagues. “This is not some kind of thing organised with us,” he said.
Alexandre Raymakers, a senior Africa analyst at the risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, said it was unlikely that the mutiny was planned by political leaders close to the opposition, but that their supporters might welcome any decision to remove Keïta.
“This remains a fast-moving situation, but initial indications point to the mutiny being within the national guard, with significant elements of the army still loyal to Keïta … The mutiny is likely driven by a range of factors closely tied to the deteriorating military situation in central and northern Mali, rather than the ongoing political crisis,” he said.
The French and Norwegian embassies in Bamako urged their citizens to stay at home. “Because of serious unrest this morning, August 18, in the city of Bamako, it is immediately recommended to remain at home,” the French embassy said.
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