BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Soldiers in Mali took up arms in the garrison town of Kati on Tuesday and detained senior military officers in an apparent mutiny, raising fears of a potential coup after several months of anti-government demonstrations calling for the president’s resignation.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the latest turmoil to wrack Mali, but the unrest erupted at the very same military barracks where the country’s 2012 coup originated.
In the nearby capital of Bamako, government workers fled their offices as armed men began detaining officials including the country’s finance minister Abdoulaye Daffe.
“Officials are being arrested — it’s total confusion,” said an officer at Mali’s Ministry of Internal Security, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to journalists.
It was not immediately known where embattled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was when the chaos erupted Tuesday. About 100 of the protesters who have called for his ouster gathered midday in Bamako in a show of support for the mutiny, witnesses said.
Armored tanks and military vehicles could be seen on the streets of Kati, located less than 10 miles from the capital.
The United States said it was worried about the situation unfolding in Mali, where French troops and U.N. peacekeepers have been working to stabilize the country amid an Islamic insurgency that took hold after the 2012 coup.
“The U.S. is opposed to all unconstitutional changes of government whether in the streets or by security forces,” tweeted J. Peter Pham, the State Department’s special envoy for the Sahel region.
The dramatic developments Tuesday bore a troubling resemblance to the events leading up to the 2012 military coup, which ultimately unleashed years of chaos in Mali.
On March 21, 2012 a mutiny erupted at the Kati military camp as rank-and-file soldiers began rioting and then broke into the camp’s armory. After grabbing weapons they headed for the seat of government, led by then Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo.
Sanogo was later forced to hand over power to a civilian transitional government that then organized elections. The man who won that 2013 vote — Mali’s current president — has faced mounting pressure to step down as his unpopularity has grown.
Regional mediators have urged him to share power in a unity government but those overtures were swiftly rejected by opposition leaders who said they would not stop short of Keita’s ouster.
The current president has faced growing criticism of how his government has handled the relentless Islamic insurgency engulfing the country once praised as a model of democracy in the region. The military faced a wave of particularly deadly attacks in the north last year, prompting the government to close its most vulnerable outposts as part of a reorganization aimed at stemming the losses.
By BABA AHMED Associated Press
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.