Renegade soldiers claim to have overthrown the government as the president claims otherwise. Meanwhile, rebels armed with Libyan firepower watch and wait
To the clatter of gunfire and under the cover of darkness the president who ushered Mali into an unprecedented era of multiparty democracy fled the West African country’s sleepy capital Bamako last night as an army mutiny rapidly escalated into a full-blown coup attempt. The renegade soldiers had claimed to have seized the country after storming the presidential palace during the night. But President Amadou Toumani Toure’s reappearance at a nearby military cantonment, apparently at the head of a crack bodyguard of ‘Red Beret’ paratroopers, now leaves Mali on the brink of a civil war — apart dealing with the thorny Tuareg rebellion that helped precipitate the military uprising. In less than 24 hours one of Africa’s most stable democracies has turned upside down.
Across Bamako, growing numbers of the military, gendarmerie and police switched sides, locking down the capital, firing sporadically and establishing roadblocks. Shops stayed shuttered, crowds stood uneasily on street corners, and old men in traditional robes lounged in deck chairs as they waited for news. “Pow, pow-pow,” said Abdoulai, a taxi driver, mimicking gunfire as troops insouciantly loosed off rounds to cow the population. Gendarmes commandeered a silver station wagon; a soldier strolled casually down a half-deserted street, can of coke in his hand; and a policeman riding pillion behind a driver on a moped flashed a V-sign and shouted: “We’ve won.”(MORE: On the Scene as Soldiers Target the Government)
In fact, the situation is a lot less certain than that. Around noon on Thursday, news emerged that President Toure had successfully slipped past the renegade assault on the presidential palace, which bestrides a limestone cliff overlooking the center of Bamako, and was regrouping at Kati, the barracks where the mutiny began Wednesday morning. He is, however, without several key senior government members who are under lock and key Meanwhile, mutinies continue to take place across the country. Former colonial power France, which retains close links to Mali, said it was suspending military assistance and called for the restoration of the constitution, which the mutineers suspended overnight. The U.S. and the European Union echoed that call, and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for grievances to be settled democratically. The African Union said it was “deeply concerned by the reprehensible acts currently being perpetrated by some elements of the Malian army.” Continue reading