Mali Coup Leaders Pledge Democracy After Deposing President

DAKAR, Senegal — The plotters behind the coup that toppled the leaders of the West African nation of Mali vowed on Wednesday to hold new elections as they defended the arrest and forced resignation of the country’s democratically elected president.

In an address to the nation early Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the coup plotters asked the many foreign forces that have been trying to stabilize the insecurity-wracked country for years — including United Nations peacekeepers and thousands of French soldiers — to continue supporting Mali.

The plotters said the arrests of the president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, and the prime minister, Boubou Cissé, on Tuesday night were justified by years of bad governance, corruption, nepotism and a deteriorating security situation.

“Political patronage, the family management of state affairs, have ended up killing any opportunity for development in what little remains of this beautiful country,” said the spokesman, Ismaël Wague, reading into a microphone from a sheaf of papers. He made the remarks while flanked by his fellow coup leaders, all military men, in uniforms and berets. “Mismanagement, theft and bad governance have become virtues.”

But the coup — which resulted in the deaths of four people, the hospital union said — has drawn wide condemnation from a broad array of nations and international bodies, including the African Union, Ecowas (the regional group of West African countries), the United States, France and the United Nations, among others.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday, “The United States calls on all political and military actors to work toward a restoration of constitutional government.”

The French foreign minister called for Mr. Keïta to be freed, but said France would stick to its two priorities in the country: guarding the interests of the Malian people and fighting against terrorism.

Five colonels appeared in the broadcast, led by Colonel Assimi Goita. The group christened itself the National Commission for the People’s Salvation.

The president’s downfall came after the military mutinied on Tuesday, arresting ministers as well as the president. Soldiers celebrated with crowds of young people who descended onto Bamako’s streets.

The coup happened after more than two months of protests led by what has been called the June 5 Movement — a coalition of politicians, civil society members and a popular imam from Bamako, Mahmoud Dicko.

The coup leaders appeared to have Mr. Dicko’s approval.

“Imam Dicko believes that his mission has come to an end,” read a post on the Facebook page of Mr. Dicko’s supporters.

Cheick Oumar Sissoko, another leader of the June 5 Movement, issued a warning to the representatives of Ecowas who had planned to visit Mali and insist Mr. Keïta be returned to office.

“You think you can ask the Malian people not to prosecute and dismiss their highest elected official, when he has clearly violated the law and the constitution he was elected to defend,” he said in an open letter.

Mr. Sissoko said Mr. Keïta was accused of serious misconduct, including high treason, violating the constitution, deliberate assassinations and perjury.

“Some of you still have our people’s respect, so be careful not to compromise yourself by wanting to save one of your own at all costs,” he added.

The bodies of four people killed by gunfire and about 15 wounded, all likely hit by stray bullets, were brought into one of the city’s main hospitals, said Elhadj Djimé Kanté, a spokesman for the hospital union. The coup leaders denied that anyone had been killed, but soldiers were constantly firing in the air Tuesday, cheered on by crowds of young people.

The former president and his prime minister were taken to Kati military camp in a large military convoy. Mr. Keïta was forced to resign in an appearance on state television.

“For seven years I had the happiness and the joy of trying to straighten out this country,” Mr. Keïta said from a curtained room, his words muffled by a surgical mask. “I don’t want any blood to be shed to keep me in my position.”

Mr. Wague said the military had acted “to prevent the country from sinking,” and called on the country’s civil society to help “create the best conditions for a civil political transition leading to credible general elections.” This would “lay the foundations for a new Mali,” he said.

But skeptical voices were already emerging around the pledges touting a new commitment to democracy in Mali.

“E​ither one is a democrat, or not​,” said Souleymane Touré​, a​ 47-year-old teacher in Bamako who did not participate in any of the recent protests. “​A​ coup d’état is never the solution, because there is never a good coup. T​he only way to change power has to be through the ballot box​.”

But Aïda​ N’diaye, a​ 21-year-old medical student​, said she thought the coup was probably necessary.

“This country was in a state of total paralysis,” she said by phone on Wednesday. “You couldn’t be sure of security, health, food security, education ​or ​justice. ​I​ hope ​that​ this overthrow will bring us a new regime that can ​guarantee these basic rights.”

The Malian military has a record of killing and torturing civilians.

“The military should reflect on their own part in the crisis,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Notably, their failure to adequately protect civilians, rein in murderous militias and hold to account solders involved in a growing number of abuses.”

Bamako’s Independence Square, which had been the scene of jubilation as the military drove their captives through it on Tuesday, emptied out overnight. And by Wednesday morning it was crowded with typical, hooting traffic, although many banks and businesses were closed.

The soldiers announced a nighttime curfew and closed the country’s borders from the inside, while Ecowas, the West African regional organization, closed them from the outside and said that sanctions should be imposed.

Ruth Maclean reported from Dakar, Cheick Amadou Diouara from Gao, Mali, and Elian Peltier from London.

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