The United Nations and the African Union (AU) have condemned the detention of Mali’s president and other top government officials by mutinous soldiers in an apparent coup attempt and demanded they be freed urgently.
“I strongly condemn the forced detention of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali, the Prime Minister [Boubou Cisse] and other members of the Malian government, and call for their immediate release,” the chairman of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said in a statement.
He also denounced “any attempt at unconstitutional change” while urging the mutineers to “cease all use of violence”.
Faki called on the 15-nation West African ECOWAS bloc, the UN and the entire international community to “combine their efforts to oppose any use of force to end the political crisis in Mali”.
Faki’s statement came shortly before UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the detentions of the government officials and demanded their immediate release.
According to a UN spokesman, Guterres called for the “immediate restoration of constitutional order and rule of law” in Mali.
One of the leaders of the mutinying soldiers told AFP news agency that “the president and the prime minister are under our control” after being “arrested” at Keita’s residence in the capital, Bamako.
Keita and Cisse were being held at an army base in the town of Kati, where an earlier coup originated in 2012 that toppled then-President Amadou Toumani Toure and contributed to the fall of northern Mali to fighters.
The detentions on Tuesday come amid opposition protests calling for Keita’s arrest that have rocked the crisis-torn country since June.
A spokesman for the opposition coalition behind the demonstrations said the detention of Keita was “not a military coup but a popular insurrection”.
“IBK did not want to listen to his people. We even proposed an alternative but he responded with killings,” Nouhoum Togo, spokesman for the M5-RFP coalition, told Reuters news agency, referring to Keita by his initials.
Keita’s opponents blame the president for Mali’s economic woes, perceived high-level corruption and the failure to contain a worsening security situation that has rendered vast swathes of the country ungovernable.
Although dissatisfaction over the country’s woes has been simmering for a while, the spark for the continuing political crisis was a decision by the Constitutional Court in April to overturn the results of parliamentary polls for 31 seats, in a move that saw candidates with Keita’s party get re-elected.
The protests turned violent earlier last month when three days of clashes between security forces and protesters killed at least 14 people in the worst political strife Mali has seen in years.
Other nations around the world, including France, a former colonial power in Mali, condemned the mutiny.
The Elysee Palace said in a statement that President Emmanuel Macron had spoken to Keita, along with the leaders of Niger, Ivory Coast and Senegal, and “condemned the attempted mutiny under way”. It did not say when that conversation occurred.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said his country had received information about the detentions of Keita and Cisse, RIA news agency reported without providing further details.
He also said, according to the media outlet, that Moscow is concerned about the events in Mali.
The European Union also released a statement about the events unfolding in Mali, rejecting all “unconstitutional changes”.
“The European Union condemns the attempted coup d’etat under way in Mali and rejects all unconstitutional change,” the bloc’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.