Bamako — Mutineering soldiers in Mali on Tuesday detained the country’s president and prime minister, one of their leaders said. The claim was made after mutinous soldiers surrounded the private residence of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, firing shots into the air and deepening fears of a coup attempt following several months of demonstrations calling for his resignation.
“We can tell you that the president and the prime minister are under our control,” the leader, who requested anonymity, told AFP. He added that the pair had been “arrested” at Keita’s residence in the capital Bamako.
Two security sources also told Reuters that Keita has been detained.
Earlier Tuesday, soldiers fired their guns into the air in a military base in Kati, a town about nine miles from Bamako. An officer at the camp told AFP that the gunfire was an act of “rebellion” and many soldiers were unhappy with Mali’s political situation. “We want change,” the officer said.
The West African bloc ECOWAS said Malian soldiers had launched a “mutiny” and urged them to immediately return to their 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 15-nation bloc said in a statement. “ECOWAS calls on all soldiers to return to their barracks without delay.”
The situation remained unclear, but news of the soldiers opening fire quickly triggered fears of a coup attempt in fragile Mali.
The embassy of France, the former colonial power, recommended on social media on Tuesday that everyone remain inside their homes.
The Reuters news agency said the Norwegian Embassy had alerted citizens that it had “been notified of a mutiny in the Armed Forces and troops are on their way to Bamako.” Reuters said the statement urged Norwegians to “exercise caution and preferably stay at home until the situation is clear.”
Mali has been mired in deep political impasse for months, as President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has come under fierce pressure from the opposition June 5 Movement to resign.
The loose alliance of opposition and religious leaders has been channeling deep anger over a dire economy, perceived government corruption and a.
But the June 5 Movement’s push to topple Keita veered into crisis last month, when at least 11 people were killed during three days of unrest following a protest.
The opposition group has since rejected attempts at mediation with the 75-year-old president, and vowed to continue staging rallies against him.
Mali’s eight-year jihadist conflict is thought to be contributing to current political tensions in the country, with Keita under pressure to stop the fighting.
The government has been struggling to contain a jihadist insurgency that first broke out in 2012, and which has claimed thousands of lives since.