Malian officers thwarted by a government reshuffle arrested the president and prime minister at a military camp outside the capital, sparking widespread international condemnation and demands for immediate release.
President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane head an interim government that was installed under threat of regional sanctions following a coup in August, and Monday’s detentions raised fears of a second coup.
Two senior officials, who declined to be named, told AFP soldiers took Ndaw and Ouane to the Kati military camp on the outskirts of the capital Bamako.
Their detentions followed a sensitive government reshuffle earlier Monday, intended to respond to growing criticism from the interim government.
The military retained the strategic portfolios it controlled under the previous administration during the reshuffle.
But two coup leaders – former defense minister Sadio Camara and former security minister Colonel Modibo Kone – have been replaced.
Coup leaders and military officers have wielded significant influence over the government, casting doubts on the promise to hold elections early next year.
The reshuffle came at a time of growing political challenges in the capital Bamako and pressure to meet the deadline for promised reforms.
Speculation of a coup swirled around Bamako on Monday evening, but the city remained relatively calm.
Briefly reached by telephone before the line was cut, Prime Minister Ouane told AFP that the soldiers “were coming to get him”.
# photo1EU leaders condemned what they called the “kidnapping” of Malian civilian leaders, Council Chairman Charles Michel said.
“What happened was serious and serious and we are ready to consider the necessary measures,” he told reporters after a summit of the 27 leaders of the bloc, describing the events as “the kidnapping of the president and of the Prime Minister ”.
Earlier, a joint declaration by the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union and the United States condemned the arrests and called for their “freedom. immediate and unconditional ”.
– ‘Send a message’ –
Young military officers ousted Keita on August 18 after weeks of protests against perceived government corruption and its handling of the jihadist insurgency in Mali.
After ECOWAS, a bloc of 15 West African countries, threatened sanctions, the military junta handed power over to an interim government that pledged to reform the constitution and hold elections in them. 18 months.
Coup leader Assimi Goita has been appointed deputy chairman of the interim administration, and interim chairman Bah Ndaw is a retired army officer.
Many doubted that the military-dominated government would have the will or the capacity to implement short-term reforms.
Among other problems, the vast nation faces a major logistical and security challenge, as swathes of territory are in the hands of the jihadists.
Doubts remained despite the caretaker government’s promise last month to hold a constitutional referendum on October 31, with elections to follow in February next year.
On May 14, amid mounting anger, the government then announced that it would appoint a new “broad-based” cabinet.
An official in Mali’s interim presidency, who requested anonymity, said the reshuffle was intended to send a message that “meeting the transition deadline remains the priority.”
He also stressed the need to replace defense and security ministers.
“They are not emblematic figures of the junta,” said the official, referring to the newly appointed ministers.
In an example of growing unease, the M5 opposition movement – which spearheaded protests against Keita in 2020 – this month called for the dissolution of the interim government and demanded a “more legitimate” body.
But the M5 is divided. Two members of the Union for the Republic and Democracy party – which is part of the M5 – were appointed interim ministers on Monday.
Civil strife in Mali also adds to the pressure created by political disputes.
The country’s largest union, UNTM, on Monday called for a second week of strikes after wage negotiations with the interim government failed.
© 2021 AFP