Rioting soldiers detained Mali’s president and prime minister on Tuesday after surrounding a residence and firing into the air in an apparent coup attempt after several months of demonstrations demanding the removal of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Soldiers moved freely through the streets of Bamako, making it increasingly clear that they were in control of the capital. So far there have been no comments from the soldiers, who came from the same military headquarters in Kati where another coup originated more than eight years ago.
A regional official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to journalists, confirmed that the president and prime minister had been detained Tuesday night.
The spectacular escalation capped a day of political chaos in Mali, where the UN and France have spent more than seven years trying to stabilize the country since the 2012 coup allowed an Islamic insurgency to take hold in the nation.
The upheaval had started in the town of Kati, where mutinous soldiers took arms from the barracks and detained senior military officers. Anti-government protesters applauded the soldiers’ actions, and some even set fire to a building in the capital that belongs to Mali’s justice minister.
Prime Minister Boubou Cisse, had urged the soldiers to lay down their arms.
“There is no problem the solution of which cannot be found through dialogue,” he said in a statement.
Hours earlier, government workers fled their offices when gunmen began detaining officials, including the country’s finance minister, Abdoulaye Daffe.
It is a disturbing repetition of the events leading up to the 2012 coup, which ultimately unleashed years of chaos in Mali when the ensuing power vacuum allowed Islamic extremists to gain control of northern cities. Ultimately, a French-led military operation toppled the jihadists, but they regrouped and extended their reach into central Mali.