Mali’s military leaders ‘repel counter coup’

Junta says it is in control of key sites in and around capital Bamako as fighting continues amid attempted counter coup.

Mali’s ruling military leaders have said in a message aired over state television said that they are in control of the state broadcaster building, the airport, and the military base in Kati near the capital Bamako after a counter-coup attempt.

“Elements from abroad, supported by some obscure forces within the country, carried out these attacks. Some of them have been arrested,” a military officer said in a television message on Tuesday.

Earlier, the military issued a scrolling message over state television pictures saying it remained in control of key sites in Bamako.

Bakary Doucoure, who was near the broadcaster’s main offices, told the Reuters news agency that gun and heavy weapons fire continued near the building and ambulances were at the scene.

It has been just over a month since a group of soldiers toppled Mali’s democratically elected president.

Three people have been killed since fighting broke out in Mali’s capital on Monday, with troops who took part in the March coup and the presidential guards of the former president exchanging shots, witnesses said.

Captain Amadou Sanago, the leader of the initial coup, signed a deal with ECOWAS to return the country to constitutional rule. The deal gave the junta a supervisory role in the transition.

‘Very tense’

The state broadcaster has been in the hands of the junta ever since the March 21 coup.

Junta leader Amadou Sanogo is reported to have spoken to local radio by phone to say he is alive [Reuters]

Yaya Konate, the head of the broadcast station, said that troops arrived at the station at around 6.30pm on Monday, firing in the air and telling 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 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,” he said.

“People got very tense and tried to get out of the centre of town as soon as the fighting started.”

‘Red Berets’

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 coup that toppled former 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 Toure 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.”

He said the anti-junta forces had 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 the March coup.

“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.

Junta headquarters

Earlier, 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 shooting, but did not specify the groups involved.

Witnesses told Reuters that 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 a 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.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies