MALI’S President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has resigned after he was arrested by armed troops in a suspected coup on Tuesday.
Keita dissolved parliament hours after soldiers detained him at gunpoint, saying he had little choice but to step down in order to avoid bloodshed.
“If today, certain elements of our armed forces want this to end through their intervention, do I really have a choice?” he said from a military base in Kati outside the capital Bamako where he had been detained earlier in the day, according to Reuters.
Looking tired and wearing a surgical mask, Keita resigned in a brief address broadcast on state television ORTM after troops seized him along with Prime Minister Boubou Cisse and other top officials.
A banner across the bottom of the television screen referred to him as the outgoing president.
“I wish no blood to be shed to keep me in power,” Keita said. “I have decided to step down from office.”
He also announced that his government and the National Assembly would be dissolved.
Keita was democratically elected in 2013 and then re-elected five years later.
Mutinous soldiers earlier that day seized weapons from the armory in the garrison town of Kati and then advanced on the capital of Bamako, news wires reported.
It was not immediately clear who was leading the revolt, or who would govern in Keita’s absence.
The military has had to contend with attacks over the past year from Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked groups.
A wave of deadly incidents in the north in 2019 prompted the government to close outposts as part of a reorganization aimed at stemming losses.
A video, which has yet to be verified by media, shows what appears to be hundreds of anti-government protesters pouring into a central square in Bamako to celebrate and cheer the mutineers.
The soldiers drove through in military vehicles and fired rounds of celebratory gunfire.
A mutiny in 2012 at the same Kati base led to a military coup that toppled then-President Amadou Toumani Toure and hastened the fall of Mali’s north to jihadist militants.
French forces intervened the following year to beat them back. But the militants have since regrouped and expanded their influence into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, attacking soldiers, civilians and Western tourists.
Chairman of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned news of the arrests, in a tweet posted on Tuesday.
“Strongly condemn the arrest of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the Prime Minister and other members of the Malian Government and call for their immediate release,” he wrote in French.
The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the situation on Wednesday, UN diplomat sources told CNN.
Earlier on Tuesday, Malian Prime Minister Cisse had posted a plea to troops on Facebook, asking the military to put down its arms and engage in dialogue.
“The government calls for reason and a patriotic sense and asks for the use of arms to be stopped. There are no problems that cannot be solved in dialogue,” Cisse wrote, in a post that appears to have been published before his reported detention.
France and other international powers as well as the African Union denounced the mutiny.
Keita’s fall could further destabilize the former French colony and West Africa’s entire Sahel region, Reuters reported.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the immediate release of Keita and the other detainees.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France “condemns in the strongest terms this grave event”.
The U.S. envoy to the Sahel, J. Peter Pham, said via Twitter that “the U.S. is opposed to all extra-constitutional changes of government”.
The Economic Community of West African States condemned “the overthrow by putschist soldiers of the democratically elected government”.
In a statement, it ordered the closing of regional borders with Mali and suspension of all financial flows between Mali and its 15 members states.
At least 14 people were killed in July during demonstrations called for by a coalition of Keita’s political opponents, religious leaders and civil society activists.
Keita still had three years left of his presidential term.