Gunfire has erupted in Mali’s capital Bamako in a third day of clashes between the military junta and soldiers loyal to the ousted president, prompting residents to flee for cover, witnesses have said.
A Mali security source told Reuters on Wednesday that Malian troops were evacuating buildings to find remaining loyalist fighters, including suspected foreign mercenaries, who had mounted an unsuccessful counter-coup attempt.
“The evacuation is meant to help the work of the soldiers who are in the process of sweeping the city in search of
mercenaries that have infiltrated the population,” the source said, on the condition of anonymity.
Mali’s military junta said it arrested about 240 people allegedly associated with an attempted coup earlier this week, and that they are shooting guns into the air as a warning as they try to round up more people they blame for the chaos.
“The city is under our complete control. There are patrols going on and there may be some warning shots and testing of weapons but that is all,” said Bakary Mariko, a spokesman for the junta.
A group of soldiers in Mali toppled the country’s democratically elected president in March. The junta leaders then handed power over to an interim government in April, but they still wield power
Earlier in the day, shooting was heard from the direction of the state broadcaster building, scene of some of the heaviest fighting since Monday but which has remained in the junta’s control.
A Reuters witness said firing also broke out in downtown Bamako, where administrative buildings were being evacuated and residents were fleeing on foot and by car.
Residents near the Red Beret’s camp said there had been heavy fighting there Tuesday, and that pro-junta troops were over-running the camp.
Anti-junta forces tried to take over the country’s state broadcaster and attacked the airport and the junta’s main military base on Monday.
Mali’s coup leaders who took power over a month ago and ostensibly handed control over to an interim civilian government on April 12, said they control the state broadcaster, the airport and a military base after fending off attacks by opposing forces.
Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo told a private radio station on Monday night that the counter-coup had failed and that his soldiers had captured foreign fighters.
Soldiers loyal to Sanogo, however, appeared on state television early on Tuesday and said the important installations remain in their hands after fighting.
But heavy gunfire across Bamako suggests that the leaders of the March coup don’t yet have total control over the capital.
A dozen bodies had been brought to the hospital since the fighting started on Monday evening, said a hospital official, who added those killed in the fighting included both soldiers and civilians.
At least 27 people were killed in the fighting, which died down by Tuesday afternoon when junta soldiers overran the
presidential guard barracks in the capital.