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Gunfire heard at Mali army base as soldiers mutiny outside capital

BAMAKO (Reuters) – Gunfire was heard on Tuesday at an army base outside Mali’s capital Bamako as diplomatic and security sources said a mutiny was under way.

Local residents and security sources said there was gunfire at the army base in Kati, about 15 km (9 miles) outside Bamako, where a mutiny in 2012 led to a coup d’etat.

“Yes, mutiny. The military has taken up arms,” a security source said.

The scale of the mutiny was not immediately clear. A European diplomat said a relatively small number of members of the National Guard, apparently angered by a pay dispute, had seized a munitions depot but were reported to have since been surrounded by other government troops.

A French military source said discussions were taking place between Mali’s army command and the mutineers.

A Malian military spokesman confirmed that gunshots were fired at the base in Kati, but said he did not have any further information. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s office could not be reached for comment.

Government ministry buildings were evacuated, a government official said, and gunfire was heard near the prime minister’s office, according to a security source.

The offices of state television ORTM were also evacuated, said Kalifa Naman, a senior ORTM official. There have been no reports of any attack on state TV, which was still broadcasting prerecorded programming.

A Bamako resident said armed men had shut down access to two bridges across the Niger River within the city. It was not immediately clear who the armed men were.

The mutiny comes amid Mali’s worst political crisis since the 2012 coup that toppled then-President Amadou Toumani Toure and contributed to the fall of northern Mali to jihadist militants.

Keita’s opponents have led mass protests since June calling on him to resign over what they say are his failures to restore security and address corruption.

At least 14 people have been killed in the protests, according to the United Nations and human rights activists.

Regional powers are worried that any prolonged unrest from the protests could derail the fight against Islamist militants in the region, many of whom are centred in Mali. Their presence has rendered large areas of the centre and north of Mali ungovernable.

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Keita had hoped concessions to opponents and recommendations from a mediating delegation of regional leaders would help stem the tide of dissatisfaction, but the protest leaders have rejected proposals to join a power-sharing government.

The French and Norwegian embassies in Bamako urged their citizens on Thursday to stay at home.

“Because of serious unrest this morning, Aug. 18, in the city of Bamako, it is immediately recommended to remain at home,” the French Embassy said.

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