Bamako – Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse have been arrested by the military in an apparent mutiny, Army Officer Sidi Gakou said on Tuesday.
“The president and his prime minister have been arrested,” Gakou said by phone. “They are being taken to Kati military camp.”
The African Union Commission condemned the arrests and called for the immediate release of both leaders.
Earlier on Tuesday, the government had released a statement calling for calm, admitting that soldiers might have legitimate frustrations and saying they were prepared to engage in a dialogue.
Mali has been struggling to maintain stability since tens of thousands of opposition supporters accused Keita of gross intimidation and vote-buying during a parliamentary election in April, which gave his administration a firm majority.
Soldiers started to mutiny early Tuesday in the garrison town of Kati, 15 kilometres north-west of Bamako. Gunfire was heard in the capital.
Earlier in the day, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it was “greatly concerned” about a mutiny taking place.
Soldiers should return to barracks, refrain from “unconstitutional action” and instead try to resolve political differences through dialogue, ECOWAS said in a statement.
France, a former colonial power in Mali, also condemned the mutiny.
“France has learned with concern of the mutiny that has started today in Kati, Mali. It condemns this serious event in the strongest terms,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The U.S., Australian, and Swedish embassies in Mali warned of possible unrest in the volatile West African nation, urging their citizens to stay at home.
“There are reports of gunfire and civil disturbance in parts of [the capital] Bamako. We advise Australian citizens in Mali to seek shelter, remain indoors and monitor local media,” Australia’s ambassador to Mali said on Twitter.
The U.S. embassy also told citizens in Bamako to “shelter in place.”
“The U.S. Embassy is aware of gunfire and unrest in the area of Kati, as well as ongoing police/military operations in Bamako,” it said in a statement.
The warnings come after several weeks of political tensions and repeated anti-government protests.
Talks between the government and the opposition, which is led by popular cleric Mahmoud Dicko, a former ally of Keita, have so far failed.
“This remains a fast-moving situation, but initial indications point to the mutiny being within the national guard,” said Alexandre Raymakers, a Senior Africa Analyst at Risk Management Consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. (dpa/NAN)