Path forward unclear after military coup ousts Mali president

Bamako, Mali and Dakar, Senegal

Mali’s president announced his resignation late Tuesday, just hours after armed soldiers seized him from his home in a dramatic power grab following months of protests demanding his ouster.

The news of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators and alarm by former colonial ruler France, and other allies and foreign nations.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission.

Speaking on national broadcaster ORTM just before midnight, a distressed Mr. Keita, wearing a mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said his resignation – three years before his final term was due to end – was effective immediately. A banner across the bottom of the television screen referred to him as the “outgoing president.”

“I wish no blood to be shed to keep me in power,” Mr. Keita said. “I have decided to step down from office.”

He also announced that his government and the National Assembly would be dissolved, certain to further the country’s turmoil amid an eight-year Islamic insurgency and the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Keita, who was democratically elected in 2013 and reelected five years later, was left with few choices after the mutinous soldiers seized weapons from the armory in the garrison town of Kati and then advanced on the capital of Bamako. They took Prime Minister Boubou Cisse into custody along with the president.

Soldiers who ousted Mali’s president and government in the military coup promised on Wednesday to oversee elections within a “reasonable” time, according to Reuters, as calls from abroad grew for a peaceful resolution to an acute political crisis.

The troops hailed from the same military barracks where a coup was launched more than eight years ago, allowing the Islamic insurgency to take hold amid a power vacuum.

A spokesman for the mutineers, calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, said they had acted to prevent Mali from falling further into chaos, according to Reuters.

The political upheaval unfolded months after disputed legislative elections. And it also came as support for Mr. Keita tumbled amid criticism of his government’s handling of the insurgency, which has engulfed a country once praised as a model of democracy in the region.

The military has taken a beating over the past year from Islamic State and Al Qaeda-linked groups. A wave of particularly deadly attacks in the north in 2019 prompted the government to close its most vulnerable outposts as part of a reorganization aimed at stemming the losses.

Tuesday’s developments were condemned by the African Union, the United States, and the regional bloc known as ECOWAS, which had been trying to mediate Mali’s political crisis. Former colonizer France and the United Nations, which has maintained a peacekeeping mission in Mali since 2013, also expressed alarm ahead of Mr. Keita’s speech.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sought “the immediate restoration of constitutional order and rule of law,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

But news of Mr. Keita’s detention was met with celebration throughout the capital by anti-government protesters who first took to the streets back in June to demand that the president step down.

“All the Malian people are tired – we have had enough,” one demonstrator said.

The detention was a dramatic change of fortune for Mr. Keita, who seven years earlier emerged from a field of more than two dozen candidates to win Mali’s first democratic post-coup election in a landslide with more than 77% of the vote.

Regional mediators from ECOWAS, though, had failed in recent weeks to bridge the impasse between Mr. Keita’s government and opposition leaders, creating mounting anxiety about another military-led change of power.

Then on Tuesday, soldiers in Kati took weapons from the armory at the barracks and detained senior military officers. Anti-government protesters immediately cheered the soldiers’ actions, and some set fire to a building that belongs to Mali’s justice minister in the capital.

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