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Mali’s President and Prime Minister Arrested in Military Coup

DAKAR, Senegal — Mali’s military staged a coup and arrested the country’s president on Tuesday, after weeks of unrest that convulsed the West African nation, diplomats said.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta and his prime minister, Boubou Cissé, were arrested along with other government officials, according to Moussa Faki, chairman of the African Union Commission, who called for them to be freed immediately.

The turmoil came amid a growing protest movement driven by charges that President Keïta had stolen a parliamentary election in March and installed his own candidates. Demonstrators have also been angered by the government’s failure to address corruption and the violence by Islamist insurgents and other armed groups that has plagued the country for eight years.

The streets of Bamako, the capital, exploded with jubilation and gunfire. At Independence Square in the middle of town, hundreds of people gathered in what appeared to be a spontaneous demonstration, pumping their fists, blowing vuvuzelas and cheering the soldiers who drove past, firing their weapons.

“Goodbye, I.B.K.,” read a placard, using Mr. Keïta’s nickname. “Long live Mali.”

And with the music turned up loud, rifles bristling from the windows, people riding in a column of military vehicles broadcast their actions live on Facebook.

Mali has been in crisis since 2012, when rebels and jihadists took control of the country’s north. Despite the intervention of foreign forces, including French troops and American military advisers as well as United Nations peacekeepers, the unrest has spread.

Led by a coalition of politicians, civil society leaders and a popular imam, Mahmoud Dicko, Malians have risen up to demand Mr. Keïta’s resignation, descending by the thousands onto Bamako’s streets. In mid-June, security forces shot and killed at least 11 protesters in violence that further drove the protest movement.

The turmoil represents a sharp change in fortunes for the once-popular president, who won a landslide election in 2013 in the wake of a military coup.

The arrests were confirmed on Tuesday evening by one of the president’s former bodyguards, Banou Mariko, who told local radio stations, “We’ve just arrested the president of the republic together with his prime minister Boubou Cissé and his campaign aide.”

They were taken to a military camp in Kati, 10 miles outside Bamako, where the mutiny began early Tuesday, Mr. Mariko said. Pictures of what appear to be the president and prime minister getting out of S.U.V.s at the camp — the president dressed in his trademark white robes and the prime minister in a suit and surgical mask — were circulated among local journalists and on social media.

The prime minister, Mr. Cissé, had released a statement earlier on Tuesday calling for “reason and patriotism, and for the guns to be silenced.” There was no problem that could not be solved by dialogue, he said, taking a conciliatory tone.

“The government calls for appeasement and is available to engage in fraternal dialogue in order to dispel any misunderstandings,” the statement read.

But attempts at mediation in the last month by regional leaders, led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, had failed to dampen the protest movement.

A government official said that he saw soldiers arrive in pickup trucks and arrest the finance minister in his office on Tuesday morning, and local media reported that the president of the national assembly was taken from his home.

Ecowas, the union of West African countries, confirmed that the mutiny had taken place and called for the soldiers to “return to barracks,” saying it was opposed to any unconstitutional political change. The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, also condemned the mutiny in a statement.

Early on Tuesday, the Norwegian ambassador sent out a message saying there had been warnings of a mutiny in the armed forces, and the French Embassy posted a message on Twitter warning people to stay at home.

“Given the tensions reported this morning, August 18, in Kati and Bamako, we urgently recommend that you stay at home,” read the post.

Peter Pham, U.S. special envoy for the Sahel region, said in a post on Twitter: “The US opposes any extra-constitutional change of government, whether by those on the streets or by the defense and security forces.”

Cheick Amadou Diouara contributed reporting from Gao, Mali.

Source: NYT > World News

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