Mutineering soldiers detained the President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and the Prime Minister Boubou Cisse in Mali on Tuesday, one of their leaders said.The leader who requested for anonymity told AFP that,”We can tell you that the president and the prime minister are under our control”. He also added that the pair had been “arrested” at Keita’s residence in the capital Bamako.
Earlier, soldiers launched the mutiny from the nearby garrison town of Kati.
Another official from military also declined to be named, said that the president and prime minister were in an armoured vehicle en route to Kati.
Mutinous soldiers prior surrounded the Keita’s private residence, firing shots in the air and deepening the fear of a coup attempt followed by several months of demonstrations calling for his resignation.
The dramatic rise capped off a day of political chaos in Mali, where the UN and the former coloniser France have spent more than seven years trying to stabilise the country since a 2012 coup allowed an Islamic insurgency to take hold in the West African nation.
Earlier in the day, unrest kicked off in the garrison town of Kati, where the previous violence originated under the similar circumstances eight years ago. The soldiers took the weapons from the armory at the barracks, and then detained the senior military officers.
Soldiers actions were cheered by the anti government protesters , as some of them tried setting fire to the building that belongs to Mali’s justice minister.
Prime Minister Cisse, who was sheltering with Keita, urged the soldiers to put down their arms and puts the interests of the nation first. “There is no problem whose solution cannot be found through dialogue,” Cisse said in a communique.
Earlier on tuesday, government workers fled their offices as armed men and began detaining the officials including the Abdoulaye Daffe, country’s finance minister.
“Officials are being arrested — it’s total confusion,” said an officer at Mali’s Ministry of Internal Security, who spoke to media only on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to journalists.
President of Mali, who was democratically elected and had a large support from former coloniser France and other Western allies, was believed to be sheltering in Bamako at his private residence along with the prime minister.
Around100 of the protesters, who have been calling for Keita’s dismissal gathered midday in Bamako to show support for the mutiny soldiers.
ECOWAS, the regional block has been mediating in Mali’s current political situation urged the soldiers to return immediately to their barracks in Kati, which is 15 km away from the presidential palace in the capital.
The US said it was concerned about the condition unfolding in Mali, where the French troops and UN peacekeepers have been working to stabilise the country amid the Islamic insurgency that took hold after the 2012 coup.
The State Department’s special envoy for the Sahel region, J Peter Pham tweeted, “The US is opposed to all unconstitutional changes of government whether in the streets or by security forces,” .
On Tuesday the developments bore a troubling resemblance to events leading up to the 2012 military coup, which eventually unleashed years of chaos in Mali, when the ensuing power vacuum allowed Islamic extremists to seize control of northern towns.
Ultimately the French led military operation forced out the jihadists but they merely regrouped and then expanded their reach during the Keita’s presidency.
A similar mutiny erupted at the Kati military camp on 21st March, 2012 as rank and file soldiers began riots and then broke into the camp’s armory. After grabbing the weapons they later headed for the seat of government, which was then led by Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo.
Later Sanogo was forced to hand over the power to a civilian transitional government that then organized the elections. The man who won the 2013 vote was Mali’s current President and has faced rising pressure to step down from the post as his unpopularity has grown.
Regional mediators also have urged Keita to share their power in a unity government but those attempts were swiftly rejected by the opposition leaders, who said they would not stop short of Keita’s ouster.
The current President has faced lot of growing criticism of how his government has handled the relentless Islamic insurgency engulfing the country, who was once praised as a model of democracy in the region.
Last year military faced a wave of deadly attacks in the north prompting the government to close its most vulnerable outposts as part of a reorganisation aimed at stemming the losses.