Conflict & Justice

Mali soldiers attack presidential palace in Bamako, raising coup fears


Relatives and supporters of soldiers fighting rebels Tuareg in the north, clash with security forces during a protest against the 'weak' response to attacks by the rebels, in Bamako on February 2, 2012.



Mutineering soldiers reportedly attacked Mali’s presidential palace overnight on Thursday in the capital, Bamako, further provoking fears of a possible coup.

The military mutiny is in protest of the government’s handling of a rebellion in the north led by Tuareg separatists, according to Reuters.

Earlier, armored vehicles sealed off the presidential palace after heavy gunfire was reported in the center of Bamako.

Programs on state television were at one stage interrupted after soldiers blocked access routes to the state broadcaster.

More from GlobalPost: Mali soldiers storm state broadcaster: reports

"In a moment, there will be a statement by the military," read a brief message, displayed against a backdrop of traditional Malian music and dance.

Then TV screens went blank for seven hours before the service came back around midnight to announce that a government statement would soon be issued.

However, Agence France-Presse quoted a member of the presidential guard as saying by telephone: "We are in control of the presidential palace. People are shooting towards us and we are returning fire."

And the Press Association cited a message on Twitter from the presidential palace saying: "There is no coup in Mali. There's just a mutiny." 

Reuters quoted a defense ministry official as saying: "We now know it is a coup d‘état that they are attempting."

President Amadou Toumani Toure, who according to the news service has long said he will relinquish power after elections next month, was in a secure location.

The mutiny began Wednesday morning at a military camp in the capital, the Press Association wrote.

Defence Minister General Sadio Gassama had given a speech to troops but failed to address the grievances of the rank-and-file soldiers over the nomad-led rebellion, which has cost the lives of numerous soldiers.

Those fighting in the north lack supplies, including arms and food, the military says. 

Back in February, Toure also reportedly urged Malians not to target civilian Tuareg, after retaliatory attacks on the homes and property of Tuareg citizens in the towns of Segou (150 miles) from Bamako, and Kati, close the capital.

Recruits started firing into the air at the camp, the Press Association wrote, adding that troops had also started rioting at a military garrison in the northern town of Gao.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meantime, has issued a statement calling for calm.