Soldiers in Mali have taken up arms and staged an apparent mutiny at a critical base in Kati, a town close to the capital, Bamako, sparking fears of a coup.
Multiple reports suggest that President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta has been arrested by mutinous soldiers, the BBC reports.
The developing situation on Tuesday comes amid a weeks-long political crisis in which opposition protesters have taken to the streets to demand the departure of the president.
The opposition has accused President Keïta of allowing Mali’s economy to collapse and of mishandling a worsening security situation.
The soldiers’ actions began with gunfire inside a key military base, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the capital, Bamako, on Tuesday morning. In the centre of Bamako, people looted a government-owned building and set it on fire.
The unrest has coincided with calls for more protests to demand that President Keïta resign.
The mutiny has been condemned by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the former colonial power, France. ECOWAS has urged the mutineers to return to barracks.
“This mutiny comes at a time when, for several months now, ECOWAS has been taking initiatives and conducting mediation efforts with all the Malian parties,” the organisation’s statement said.
Failed attempts by ECOWAS
An ECOWAS mission led by the former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan suggested instituting a government of national union that would include members of civil society groups and the opposition. That proposal was revived by the most recent ECOWAS presidential delegation.
The mission suggested also that new judges be appointed to the Constitutional Court, which had previously been “de facto” disbanded by Keïta in an attempt to calm tensions.
These proposals were rejected by the opposition Mouvement du 5 juin. Its leaders are calling for accountability for the deaths of protesters on 10-12 June and they demand that Keïta leave office.
The M5-REP coalition (Mouvement du 5 juin-Regruopement des forces patriotiques), which has led the protests, dismissed the recommendations.
“[ECOWAS] came to support Keïta and threaten the M5-REP. All they want is their vision, Keïta’s vision, but not ours,” said the coalition’s spokesman Nouhoum Togo.
President Keïta won a second term in 2018, but there is widespread anger over corruption, mismanagement of the economy and the worsening security situation, with jihadist and communal violence on the increase.
Mali, with a population of roughly 20 million people, has been bedevilled by a conflict which started in 2010 and has since spilled over into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.