Military officers in Mali detained the president, prime minister and defence minister of the interim government on Monday (May 24), deepening political chaos in the West African country just nine months after a military coup overthrew its previous leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Diplomatic and government sources told Reuters and AFP that President Bah Ndaw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and defence minister Souleymane Doucoure were all being held at a military base in Kati, outside the capital, Bamako.
“I confirm: Goïta’s men came to get me to take me to the president who lives not far from my residence,” said Ouane in a brief telephone exchange with AFP, referring to the Malian strongman, Colonel Assimi Goïta, current vice-president of the transition.
The detentions followed a sensitive government reshuffle on Monday afternoon, which was designed to respond to growing criticism of the interim government. Meanwhile, the country’s largest union, UNTM, called a second week of strikes Monday after pay negotiations with the interim government collapsed.
In a joint statement, the United Nations and African Union called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Mali’s civilian leadership and said “the international community rejects in advance any act of coercion, including forced resignations”.
The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS also signed the statement.
There was no immediate comment from the military or the government on Ndaw and Ouane’s detentions and the city of Bamako remained relatively calm late on Monday, Al Jazeera reported.
Kati’s military base is notorious for ending the rule of Malian leaders. Last August, the military took Keita to Kati and forced him to resign. His predecessor Amadou Toumani Toure was also toppled there in 2012.
The latest developments raised new alarm about whether the transitional government would be able to move ahead freely with plans to organize new elections as promised by next February in Mali, where the UN. is spending $1.2 billion a year on a peacekeeping mission.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, Al Jazeera, AP