BAMAKO (AFP) – Army colonel Assimi Goita on Wednesday introduced himself as Mali’s new military strongman a day after a coup that was condemned by the international community but won support from the country’s opposition.
The African Union (AU), European Union (EU), the United States (US and the United Nations (UN) Security Council have all demanded the junta free President Ibrahim Boubacar, Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and others taken captive in Tuesday’s coup that followed months of protests.
In the Malian capital Bamako, Goita said after meeting top civil servants that he was the leader of the “National Committee for the Salvation of the People” that has seized power.
“Mali is in a situation of socio-political crisis. There is no more room for mistakes,” Goita, surrounded by armed military men, told journalists.
His entourage told AFP that Goita, who is in his forties, had until now headed Mali’s special forces based in the centre of the west African country, torn for the last five years by extremist and sectarian violence.
Several military men told AFP on condition of anonymity that Goita was the true force behind the coup.
Fellow coup chiefs meanwhile called on the public to return to normal life, warned against acts of “vandalism” and threatened to punish any soldier found guilty of extortion.
The opposition coalition M5-RFP said in a statement that “it took note of the commitment” the junta has made to “open a civilian political transition” and would work with it on “developing a roadmap.”
The coalition’s Choguel Maiga told journalists “we will organise the biggest patriotic rally on Friday” in Bamako and nationwide in order to “celebrate the Malian people’s victory”.
The dramatic events in one of Africa’s most volatile countries began early on Tuesday, when rebel officers mutinied at a base near Bamako and headed into the city, where they detained Keita and Cisse.
Hours later, Keita – beset by angry protests over economic stagnation, corruption and a brutal extremist insurgency – announced his resignation.
He said he had been given no other choice but to quit, and sought to avoid bloodshed.
Jubilant crowds had cheered the rebels on Tuesday as they arrived in the capital Bamako.
There were few visible traces of those events on Bamako’s streets on Wednesday – troops had not been deployed en masse despite the coup leaders announcing a night-time curfew.
The 55-nation AU blasted the “unconstitutional change of government” in Mali.
The bloc announced that it was suspending Mali – a rare move that bars a member from attending all summits and meetings – “until restoration of constitutional order.”
It also called for the release of Keita and other officials, a demand also made forcefully by Brussels and Washington.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US “strongly condemns the August 18 mutiny in Mali as we would condemn any forcible seizure of power.”