Mali's coup leaders promise elections after detaining president and prime minister

Leaders of a military coup in Mali that detained President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and forced his resignation said Wednesday they would enact a political transition and stage elections within a "reasonable amount of time".  

Ismael Wague, spokesman and Malian Air Force deputy chief of staff (centre), with other members of Mali's military junta.
Ismael Wague, spokesman and Malian Air Force deputy chief of staff (centre), with other members of Mali's military junta. © Screen grab

The mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People in an address on state broadcaster ORTM. 

The committee would implement a transition to civil political rule with elections held in a “reasonable amount of time" without specifying a timeline, said Ismael Wague, spokesman and Malian Air Force deputy chief of staff, in a state TV broadcast. 

“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” said Wague, who also announced that Mali's borders were closed and imposed a nighttime curfew from 9pm to 5am. 

Coup leaders also called on the population to resume their normal activities and to refrain from "vandalism". 

Colonel Assimi Goita declared himself the committee leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People" that has seized power.

"Mali is in a situation of socio-political crisis. There is no more room for mistakes," Goita said. He added that he had met earlier in the day with with senior officials at defence ministry headquarters.

"It was my duty to meet the various secretaries-general so that we could assure them of our support in relation to the continuity of State services," he said.

'No blood spilled'

Looking tired and wearing a surgical mask, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned in a brief address broadcast on state TV hours after troops seized him on Tuesday along with Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and other top officials, plunging a country already facing a jihadist insurgency and mass protests deeper into crisis.

"If today certain elements of our armed forces want this to end through their intervention, do I really have a choice?" he asked, speaking from a military base in Kati outside the capital Bamako where he had been detained earlier in the day.

"I want no blood to be spilled to keep me in power," he said.

Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Bamako since June calling for Keita to resign over what they say are his failures to address worsening security and corruption.

'Popular insurrection'

Soldiers took up arms in the garrison town of Kati on Tuesday and detained senior military officers. An officer at Mali's ministry of internal security, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the chaotic scenes as the coup unfolded. “Officials are being arrested – it's total confusion."

Government workers fled their offices in Bamako as armed men began detaining officials, including the country's Finance Minister Abdoulaye Daffe.

Witnesses later said soldiers had also surrounded Keita's private residence. Mali's state broadcaster ORTM went off-line briefly before coming back on air in the early evening with pre-recorded programming.

The soldiers later moved freely through the streets of Bamako, making it clear that they were in control. 

Thousands gathered in central Bamako in a show of support for the mutinous soldiers.

The M5-RFP opposition coalition, which has been one of the forces behind mass protests calling for Keita to resign, on Tuesday denied that a coup was in progress. A spokesman said the president's detention was “not a military coup but a popular insurrection”.

“IBK (Keita) did not want to listen to his people. We even proposed an alternative but he responded with killings,” Nouhoum Togo, a spokesman for M5-RFP, told Reuters, referring to Keita by his initials.

Keita, who was democratically elected, has broad support from former colonial power France and other Western allies.

But the M5-RFP opposition along with the June 5 Movement – so named after the date of its first protest – have been marshalling deep-seated anger over a dire economy, perceived government corruption and Mali's continuing battle against the unrest sown by regional jihadist groups.

Prime Minister Cisse had earlier in the day called for dialogue with the soldiers. "The government is calling for calm and makes itself available ... to engage in fraternal dialogue in order to remove all misunderstandings," he said in a statement. 

The prime minister also admitted that the soldiers may have "legitimate frustrations".

Concerns for regional stability

France and other international powers as well as the African Union have denounced the mutiny, fearful that the fall of Keita could further destabilise the former French colony and West Africa's entire Sahel region.

The African Union has suspended Mali's membership in response to the military’s seizure of power and the detention of the president, the bloc announced in a tweet on Wednesday. The suspension will last until constitutional order is restored, it said, demanding the "immediate" release of the deposed president and other senior officials. 

The influential West African regional bloc ECOWAS said it was sending a high-level delegation to “ensure the immediate return to constitutional order”. 

A statement from the Élysée Palace released shortly after the soldiers seized power said President Emmanuel Macron was in touch with regional leaders and called for mediation.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced Keita's overthrow in a statement on Wednesday. "The United States strongly condemns the August 18 mutiny in Mali as we would condemn any forcible seizure of power," he said. "The freedom and safety of detained government officials and their families must be ensured."

The EU condemned the events in Mali as "unconstitutional". "The European Union condemns the attempted coup d'état under way in Mali and rejects all unconstitutional change," the bloc's diplomatic chief, Josep Borrell, said in a statement Tuesday.

Neighbouring Algeria has also rejected the coup. "Algeria reiterates its firm rejection of any anti-constitutional change of government," the foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. It said Algeria was following with "concern" developments in Mali, with which it shares an almost 1,400-kilometre (850-mile) border.

In a statement shortly after the coup Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Malians to protect their democratic institutions and called for the "immediate and unconditional release" of Mali's president.

The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the events later on Wednesday.

Echoes of the 2012 coup

The unrest erupted Tuesday at the very same military barracks where the country's 2012 coup originated. The overthrow unleashed years of chaos in Mali when the ensuing power vacuum allowed Islamic extremists to seize control of northern towns.

After a request from Mali, a French-led military operation dubbed Operation Serval launched in January 2013 and ousted the jihadists. But they eventually regrouped and have expanded their reach during Keita's presidency.

Keita has faced growing criticism of how his government has handled the relentless Islamic insurgency engulfing the country, which was once praised as a model of democracy in the region.

The military faced a wave of particularly deadly attacks in the north last year, prompting the government to close its most vulnerable outposts as part of a reorganisation aimed at stemming military losses.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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