Mali's military promise election as region frets over coup crisis

BAMAKO (Reuters) – Soldiers who ousted Mali’s president and government in a coup promised on Wednesday to oversee elections within a “reasonable” time, as calls abroad grew for a swift resolution to an acute political crisis.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned and dissolved parliament on Tuesday after the mutineers detained him at gunpoint, further destabilising a country in the grip of a jihadist insurgency and plagued by recent civil unrest.

Fearing Keita’s fall after nearly seven years in power could destabilise West Africa’s entire Sahel region, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Mali from its institutions. The African Union chairman, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, demanded an immediate return to civilian government.

As investors ditched shares in Mali-based gold mining companies, the mutineers had yet to identify their leader though the mood in the capital Bamoko appeared calm.

A spokesman for the mutineers, calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, said they had acted to prevent further “chaos, anarchy and insecurity.”

“We are not keen on power, but we are keen on the stability of the country, which will allow us to organise general elections …within the reasonable time limit,” Colonel Ismael Wague said early on Wednesday on state television.

He called neighbouring armies and the country’s U.N. and French peacekeeping forces the group’s “partners for stability and restoring security”.

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In Paris, a French military source told Reuters the French army has submitted several options in response to President Emmanuel Macron.

BURNED BRIDGES?

Wague also invited Mali’s civil society and political movements to help create conditions for a political transition. There was no immediate reaction to that offer.

The presidency of the G5 Sahel group of neighbouring states urged Malians to resolve the crisis peacefully, and demanded Keita’s release, and European Union Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said elections should be held reasonably quickly.

Landlocked Mali has struggled to regain stability since a Tuareg uprising in 2012 that was hijacked by Islamist militants.

Keita, 75, came to power in 2013 following a subsequent coup in Bamako, promising to bring peace and stability and fight corruption. He won a second five-year term in 2018.

In a violent run-up to Tuesday’s coup following months of protests against alleged corruption, at least 14 people were killed in July in demonstrations called by an anti-Keita coalition.

Referring to ECOWAS’s inability to broker a solution during mediation efforts then, followed by its firm reaction to Tuesday’s events, a diplomatic source working in the region said he feared the body had “burned its bridges”.

“We need a negotiated solution. But who will negotiate with (the mutineers),” the source said.

‘IT WAS HIS OWN FAULT’

Late on Tuesday, anti-government protesters had poured into central Bamako to cheer the mutineers as they drove through.

“I am against coups, but they become necessary if leaders are inflexible. What happened to IBK (Keita) was his own fault,” said 43-year-old motorcycle mechanic Namory Konate.

The capital was calmer on Wednesday, with people and traffic circulating as normal, although many shops, banks and public buildings remained closed following looting.

Videos on social media showed Malians running unchecked through luxury compounds in the city, including properties identified by a Reuters correspondent as belonging to Justice Minister Kassoum Tapo and Keita’s son Karim.

Gold miners B2Gold (BTO.TO), Resolute Mining (RSG.AX), (RSGR.L), AngloGold Ashanti (ANGJ.J) and Hummingbird Resources (HUMR.L) said they were operating in Mali as usual and staff were safe, though all saw their share price fall.

Vincent Rouget, analyst at Control Risks Group, said the political uncertainty would “add to an already very high risk premium” and could pose future risks for Mali’s mining industry.

In its first reaction to the coup on Tuesday, ECOWAS had also closed its member states’ borders with Mali.

Having previously warned it would no longer tolerate coups in the region, it planned to send a delegation to Mali to ensure a return to democracy.

The U.N. Security Council was due to be briefed on Mali on Wednesday, diplomats said. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for the immediate release of Keita and other detainees.

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