Tens of thousands Malians have flooded the capital in recent months, accusing Keïta of botching the response to a fast-spreading Islamist insurgency while allowing the nation’s economy to crumble.
The coronavirus pandemic further fanned frustrations after state lockdowns pushed many people out of school and work.
The Norwegian and French embassies both warned their citizens in Mali to stay home on Tuesday.
“The embassy has been notified of a mutiny in the Armed Forces and troops are on their way to Bamako,” the Norwegian Embassy wrote in an alert.
A French military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the matter, described the scene as a “likely coup” attempt.
Soldiers detained the president of the National Assembly and the finance minister, according to local journalists. Troops also closed public squares and erected barricades on roads. Photos circulated on WhatsApp showed the justice minister’s house on fire.
“There is a mutiny, but we do not know what it means yet,” said Mohamed Salaha, a news editor in Bamako. “Everyone is being told to stay inside. Everything is closed.”
Protesters gathered on Tuesday around Bamako’s independence monument, carrying signs that read: “Adieu, IBK” – the President’s initials.
In the crowd was Ibrahim Dembele, a 31-year-old pot maker, who covered his face with a black scarf to protect against the coronavirus.
“We heard soldiers are rising up against the President,” he said, “and we will stay here until he resigns.”
The chaos bears resemblance to Mali’s last military rebellion, in 2012, which also started with reports of unrest at Kati army camp north of Bamako.
Soldiers stormed the presidential palace in the capital that March and then declared they had brought down the government of Amadou Toumani Toure.
International outrage followed. The African Union suspended Mali until “constitutional order” returned. Keïta, who was elected in 2013 and again in 2018, vowed to rebuild peace.
Yet tensions have mounted as the nation grapples with fighters loyal to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The militants emerged eight years ago in the country’s north and have since spilled over the border into Burkina Faso and Niger.
Hundreds of West African soldiers have died trying to vanquish the scourge, which has killed thousands of civilians and rendered much of Mali’s countryside uninhabitable.
Five Malian infantrymen died earlier this month when suspected terrorists ambushed a military convoy in the central region.
Protesters – led by an influential conservative imam, Mahmoud Dicko – invoked the chaos as they filled the streets of normally peaceful Bamako in recent months, condemning what they call a weak security strategy beset by corruption.
They have also taken issue with the Malian army’s heavy-handed responses in rural communities, which, they say, have led to the deaths of innocent villagers. The Malian President’s office has said such incidents are under investigation.
Dicko’s June 5 Movement will not stop protesting until Keïta resigns, demonstrators have said.
Other West African leaders have travelled to Bamako to hold peace talks with both parties, including the presidents of Senegal, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria.
The heads of state said they aimed to restore stability. A leadership vacuum, analysts say, would open the door for Mali’s extremism problem to reach coastal nations untouched by violent insurgencies.
The Washington Post