Fighting has broken out in Mali’s capital, with troops who took part in last month’s military coup and the guard of the newly installed president exchanging shots, witnesses said.
Several people have been killed in a gunfight on Monday between the coup troops and the presidential guard loyal to ousted leader Amadou Toumani Toure at the national TV and radio station, employees said.
“There were deaths” in the gunfight after the presidential guard tried to take back the station, which has been held by rebel soldiers since the March 22 coup, said an employee who asked not to be named, without giving numbers.
Bakary Doucoure, an eyewitness, said there was fighting around the building that houses the country’s national broadcaster and that ambulances were at the scene. The broadcaster has been in the hands of the junta ever since the March 21 coup.
|Junta leader Amadou Sanogo has spoken to local radio over phone to say he is alive [Reuters]
Yaya Konate, the head of the broadcast station, said that troops arrived at the station at around 6:30 pm firing in the air and told all personnel working there to leave. He said the soldiers who took charge of the building were from the presidential guard.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Bamako, journalist Martin Vogl said that he was in the centre of town when the gunfire was heard.
“Around 5pm or 6pm, local time … we started to hear quite heavy gunfire, automatic weapon fire, coming from a couple of places in the centre of town… People got very tense and tried to get out of the centre of town as soon as the fighting started.”
It has been just over a month since a group of soldiers toppled Mali’s democratically elected president. Since then, junta leader Capt. Amadou Sanago signed a deal with ECOWAS to return the country to constitutional rule. The deal gave the junta a supervisory role in the transition.
The shooting in central Bamako followed an attempt by junta loyalists to arrest a member of the presidential guard, witnesses said.
The guardsmen have voiced anger over the arrest of the former army chief by soldiers who took part in the March 22 coup that toppled ex-president Amadou Toumani Toure weeks before an election.
The guard is part of the parachute regiment known as the Red Berets who were thought to have remained loyal to the ex-president during the coup and only reluctantly submitted to the authority of the junta leaders.
Bate Felix, a Reuters correspondent in the region, said on Twitter that “#Mali junta chief Capt. Sanogo spoke to radio Kayira via phone. Said he’s alive. Blamed mercenaries and foreign troops aiding red berets”.
A spokesman for the coup leaders said soldiers loyal to Toure were behind the fighting.
“These are elements of the presidential guard from the old regime and they’re trying to turn things around,” Bacary Mariko said. “We have the situation under control.”
“They are trying to take control of the airport right now, but we will fend them off,” said junta spokesman Bakary Mariko. He said the anti-junta forces have the support of mercenaries from the region.
“The idea is to try to take control of the airport so they can fly in ECOWAS troops,” he said, referring to troops from the West African regional bloc that tried to mediate after junta leaders staged a coup late in March.
“We hear they are going to try to attack our base at Kati too where I am now, but we are ready for them,” Mariko said.
Fela Ba, a witness to the fighting, said he saw a large convoy of military vehicles heading to the town of Kati just outside Bamako, where the junta has set up its headquarters.
The US embassy in Bamako, through its Twitter account, reported the shooting, but did not specify the groups involved.
“Gunfire reported in ACI2000, vicinity of ORTM, and possibly other areas of #Bamako. US Citizens advised to shelter in place,” the embassy tweeted.
Witnesses told the Reuters news agency heavy gunfire broke out near a key bridge and around the state broadcaster. Fighting later subsided around the bridge and members of the red beret presidential unit were seen leaving the area.
“They left the bridge after a firefight and they are now moving in the direction of the airport,” a witness said.
The clashes came nearly a week after Cheick Modibo Diarra, Mali’s interim prime minister, named 24-member cabinet, including three army representatives.
Diarra, a former executive of Microsoft for Africa, was appointed along with former national assembly speaker Dioncounda Traore, the interim president, to lead the country ahead of elections later this year.