BAMAKO, Mali — Gunfire rang out over this West African capital Monday night as soldiers loyal to the president who was deposed in a coup in March appeared to be attempting a countercoup against the ruling military junta.
Shots could be heard coming from the Djicoroni paratrooper camp, where many of the loyalists troops who support Amadou Toumani Toure, the ousted leader, are based. Junta troops had blocked off the roads leading to the paratrooper base, and were ordering motorists and pedestrians back at gunpoint.
A junta soldier, running from the scene, yelled, “The camp paratroops are attacking us.” He was heard calling for reinforcements on his phone. Witnesses near the base, close to the U.S. Embassy here, said they had seen well-armed soldiers in armored vehicles driving past.
Elsewhere in Bamako, gunfire was reported around the area of the state broadcaster, a critical position, and the national television station failed to broadcast its regular news program.
The city’s international airport also appeared to be under attack. “The airport is being evacuated,” said Tieman Coulibaly, president of a handling company that works at the airport and a leading opposition figure. “The Red Berets are trying to take it,” he said, referring to the loyalist troops.
Fighting was also reported at Kati, the garrison village at the edge of Bamako where the military junta and its troops are based. “The soldiers told us to stay inside, and they are all in the streets now,” said Sidiki Keita, a resident. “All the streets are occupied by the Green Berets” — the junta troops — “and they are looking for the Red Berets.”
Several junta spokesmen, reached by phone, refused to confirm that a countercoup was under way, underscoring the uncertain nature of the events. “There are confused reports that it was an attempt by the presidential guard to take back some parts of the city,” a diplomat in Bamako said Monday night.
Asked if a countercoup was unfolding in the city, a junta spokesman, Lt. Boubacar Coulibaly, said only: “This is what I have heard. I don’t have proof for now.” A high-ranking member of the junta, Capt. Adama Diarra, when asked the same question, said: “It’s false, it’s false! Now let me get back to work!” before hanging up the phone.
The junta seized power on March 22, overthrowing the democratically elected president and ending more than 20 years of democracy in this parched and baking land straddling the Sahara Desert. Shortly afterward a rebel movement of Islamists and nomadic fighters took control of the country’s north, splitting Mali in half.