Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned hours after soldiers seized him from his home as part of a coup following months of mass protests against alleged corruption and worsening security in the West African country.
The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators on Wednesday, while leaders of the military coup said they would enact a political transition and stage elections within a “reasonable time”.
The soldiers behind the coup – calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People – appeared on state television in military fatigues, pledging to stabilise the country.
“We are not holding on to power but we are holding on to the stability of the country,” said Ismail Wague, Mali Air Force’s deputy chief of staff.
“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” said Wague, announcing borders were closed and a curfew was going into effect from 9pm to 5am.
“This will allow us to organise within an agreed reasonable timeframe, general elections to equip Mali with strong institutions, which are able to better manage our everyday lives and restore confidence between the government and the governed.”
Keita announced he was stepping down in a brief address on national broadcaster ORTM at around midnight. Looking tired and wearing a surgical mask, the 75-year-old said his resignation – three years before his final term was due to end – was effective immediately.
He also declared the dissolution of his government and the National Assembly.
“If today, certain elements of our armed forces want this to end through their intervention, do I really have a choice?” Keita said from a military base in Kati outside the capital Bamako where he and his Prime Minister Boubou Cisse had been detained earlier in the day.
“I wish no blood to be shed to keep me in power,” he said. “I have decided to step down from office.”
There was no immediate comment from Mali’s opposition leaders, but on Tuesday the M5-RFP coalition behind the mass protests signalled support for the mutineers’ action, with spokesman Nouhoum Togo telling the Reuters news agency it was “not a military coup but a popular insurrection”.
‘Malian people are tired’
Regional bloc ECOWAS denounced “the overthrow by putschist soldiers of the democratically elected government” and ordered the closing of regional borders with Mali as well as the suspension of all financial flows between Mali and its 15 members states.
In the capital, anti-government protesters who first took to the streets in June to demand the president’s resignation, cheered the soldiers’ actions.
“All the Malian people are tired – we have had enough,” one demonstrator said.
Mohamed Ag Hamaleck, a Bamako-based journalist, told Al Jazeera there was excitement and apprehension in the capital following Keita’s announcement.
“Some people were sad to see Keita leave in this manner,” he told Al Jazeera. “We don’t know who’s in charge … We don’t have a government, we don’t have a national assembly.”
The political upheaval unfolded months after disputed legislative elections, and came as support for Keita tumbled amid criticism of his government’s handling of a spiralling security situation in the northern and central regions that has entangled regional and international governments, as well as a United Nations mission.
The downfall of Keita, who was first elected in 2013 and returned to office five years later, closely mirrors that of his predecessor. Amadou Toumani Toure was forced out of the presidency in a coup in 2012 after a series of punishing military defeats. That time, the attacks were carried out by ethnic Tuareg separatist rebels.