BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and top government officials were detained on Tuesday by mutinying soldiers in the capital Bamako on Tuesday, plunging a country already facing a jihadist insurgency and mass protests deeper into crisis.
Keita’s detention at his residence in southwestern Bamako followed hours of uncertainty after soldiers mutinied in the morning at the Kati military base outside Bamako and rounded up a number of senior civilian officials and military officers.
Prime Minister Boubou Cisse had earlier appealed for dialogue and urged mutineers to stand down, before dropping from view. Two security sources later told Reuters Keita had been seized and the African Union said Cisse was also in detention.
Mali’s state broadcaster went offline after the spate of detentions, before coming back on air in the early evening with pre-recorded programming.
It was not immediately clear who was leading the mutineers, who would govern in Keita’s absence or what the mutineers’ motivations were. A military spokesman said he had no information.
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The M5-RFP coalition behind mass protests since June calling for Keita to resign signalled support for the mutineers’ action, with spokesman Nouhoum Togo telling Reuters it was “not a military coup but a popular insurrection”.
Rumours earlier in the day that the mutineers had detained Keita prompted hundreds of anti-government protesters to pour into a central square to celebrate and chant that it was time for him to resign.
The protesters have blamed Keita for corruption and worsening security in the north and centre of the West African country where Islamist militants are active.
A mutiny in 2012 at the same Kati base led to a military coup that toppled then-President Amadou Toumani Toure and hastened the fall of Mali’s north to jihadist militants.
French forces intervened the following year to beat them back. But the militants have since regrouped and expanded their influence into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, attacking soldiers, local civilians and Western tourists.
France and other international powers as well as the African Union, fearful that the fall of Keita could further destabilise Mali – a former French colony – and West Africa’s entire Sahel region, denounced the mutiny.
“I energetically condemn the arrest of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the prime minister and other members of the Malian government and call for their immediate liberation,” African Union chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Twitter.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France “condemns in the strongest terms this grave event”. The U.S. envoy to the Sahel, J. Peter Pham, said on Twitter that “the U.S. is opposed to all extra-constitutional changes of government”.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called on the Mali soldiers to return to their barracks and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Malians to protect democratic institutions.
At least 14 people were killed in July in the demonstrations that were called for by a coalition of Keita’s political opponents, religious leaders and civil society activists.
Keita had hoped 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.
“Whether he’s been arrested or not, what is certain is that his end is near. God is granting our prayers. IBK is finished,” Haidara Assetou Cisse, a teacher, said earlier in the day, referring to Keita by his initials.
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