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Military officers believed to be upset with a government reshuffle in Mali have detained the president and prime minister at an army camp outside the capital, triggering broad international condemnation and demands for their immediate release.
President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane lead an interim government that was installed under the threat of regional sanctions following a putsch in August, and the detentions on Monday raised fears of a second coup.
Two senior officials, who declined to be named, told reporters that soldiers had taken Ndaw and Ouane to the Kati military camp on the outskirts of the capital Bamako.
Their detentions followed a sensitive government reshuffle earlier on Monday that was designed to respond to growing criticism of the interim government.
The military kept the strategic portfolios it controlled during the previous administration in the reshuffle.
But two coup leaders — ex-defence minister Sadio Camara and ex-security minister Colonel Modibo Kone — were replaced.
Coup leaders and army officers have wielded significant influence over the government, casting doubts on a pledge to hold elections by early next year.
The reshuffle came at a time of growing political challenges in the capital Bamako and pressure to stick to the deadline for promised reforms.
Speculation of a coup swirled around Bamako late on Monday, but the city remained relatively calm.
Briefly reached by phone before the line cut, Prime Minister Ouane told reporters that soldiers ‘came to get him‘.
EU leaders condemned what they called the “kidnapping” of Mali’s civilian leadership, said council president Charles Michel.
‘What happened was grave and serious and we are ready to consider necessary measures,’ he told reporters after a summit of the bloc’s 27 leaders, describing events as ‘the kidnapping of the president and the prime minister’.
Earlier, a joint statement by the United Nations, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, the European Union, and the United States condemned the arrests and called for their ‘immediate and unconditional liberty’.
Later UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted a call for calm and urged the “unconditional release” of the leaders.
AFRICA TODAY NEWS, NEW YORK