Gunfire heard at Mali army base as soldiers mutiny outside capital

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Gunfire was heard on Tuesday at an army base outside Mali’s capital Bamako in what diplomatic and security sources said was a mutiny, though it was not immediately clear how many soldiers were involved.

​Unconfirmed rumours that the mutineers had arrested President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita swept Bamako, prompting hundreds of anti-government protesters to pour into a central square to celebrate and say it was time for him to resign.

The president’s office could not be reached for comment.

“Yes, mutiny. The military has taken up arms,” a security source said.

A Malian military spokesman confirmed that gunshots were fired at the base in Kati, about 15 km (9 miles) from the capital, but said he did not have any further information.

A mutiny in 2012 at the Kati base led to a coup d’etat that toppled then-President Amadou Toumani Toure and contributed to the fall of northern Mali to jihadist militants.

Pay dispute

A European diplomat said a relatively small number of members of the National Guard, apparently angered by a pay dispute, had seized a munitions depot on Tuesday but were then reported to have been surrounded by other government troops.

A French military source said discussions were taking place between Mali’s army command and the mutineers.

In Bamako, hundreds of people poured into the square around the Independence Monument, the site of mass protests since June, calling for Keita to quit over alleged corruption and worsening security in the centre and north of Mali.

“Whether he’s been arrested or not, what is certain is that his end is near. God is granting our prayers. IBK is finished,” said Haidara Assetou Cisse, a teacher, referring to the president by his initials.

US concern

Elsewhere in the capital, government ministry buildings were evacuated, an official said, and gunfire was heard near the prime minister’s office, according to a security source.

The offices of state television ORTM were also evacuated, said Kalifa Naman, a senior ORTM official. There have been no reports of any attack on state TV, which was still broadcasting prerecorded programming.

A Bamako resident said armed men had shut down access to two bridges across the Niger River within the city. It was not immediately clear who the armed men were.

The United States’ envoy to West Africa’s Sahel region expressed concern about Tuesday’s developments in Mali.

“The US is opposed to all extra-constitutional changes of government, whether it is by those in the street or defence and security forces,” J. Peter Pham said on Twitter.

The French and Norwegian embassies in Bamako urged their citizens on Tuesday to stay at home.

“Because of serious unrest this morning, August 18, in the city of Bamako, it is immediately recommended to remain at home,” the French Embassy said.

The ongoing protests against Keita represent Mali’s worst political crisis since the 2012 coup. At least 14 people have been killed in the demonstrations, which have drawn tens of thousands of people into the streets of Bamako.

Prolonged unrest

Regional powers worry any prolonged unrest from the protests could derail the fight against Islamist militants in the region, many of whom are based in Mali. Their presence has rendered large areas of the centre and north of Mali ungovernable.

Keita had hoped concessions to opponents and recommendations from a mediating delegation of regional leaders would help stem the tide of dissatisfaction, but the protest leaders have rejected proposals to join a power-sharing government.