6:40 p.m. GMT: For the first time since the coup last month, we hear the sound of shots coming from the north. So far some heavy machine gun fire and booms. The gunfire lasts about two minutes then falls silent.
It’s been a strange day, with a great dust cloud hanging over Bamako since Sunday afternoon. The sky is khaki-colored, and the city has been suffused in an unnatural yellowish light. Flights into Bamako International Airport had to be cancelled due to poor visibility (about 100 meters, according to the state meteorological service).
Politically the situation has been tense since the ECOWAS declarations of last week. The junta is feeling justifiably under threat, and has dispatched troops to the airport to guard against any attempt to land an ECOWAS intervention force by air.
We are hoping that soon the dust will settle, literally and figuratively, and that cool heads will prevail.
7:00 p.m. GMT: An SMS arrives from the embassy’s security officer: ”Gunfire reported throughout Bamako. Red beret [sic] reported to be active. Shelter in place.”
I receive an e-mail via Malilink reading “Violent clash between security forces and Malian students. Dead and wounded are already being reported.” Last week we heard that Hamadoun Traoré, secretary general of Mali’s AEEM student syndicate had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, and that the AEEM was organizing a student strike today to protest the junta. The AEEM has long been a highly politicized organization with a prominent role on the national political scene. This is the first I’ve heard of it coming out in opposition to the junta. Local news outlets are reporting that earlier today, AEEM members attacked a radio station (Radio Kayira) run by Oumar Mariko, a vocal member of Mali’s anti-globalization left who until recently was also a vocal backer of the junta; they allege that Mariko was using his radio station to incite violence against AEEM leadership. Later in the day, one student was killed and two (including Hamadoun Traoré) wounded after police launched an assault on the university campus around 4 p.m.
7:10 p.m. GMT: Another embassy SMS: “Gunfire reported in ACI 2000, vicinity of ORTM and possibly other areas of Bamako. US citizens advised to shelter in place.”
We have heard no more shooting for 30 minutes now. If it was a confrontation between troops and protestors, I suspect the demonstration was broken up and that things will remain quiet now that night has fallen. Tomorrow is a holiday (International Workers Day in most of the world, but African Unity Day in Mali) so schools will be out of session and most offices will be closed.
7:50 p.m. GMT: Africable TV reports that the area around the Djicoroni paratrooper base has been cordoned off, and that a military column was seen moving from the base toward downtown. There is some speculation that the “red berets” (members of the airborne regiment, also charged with protecting Mali’s president) are confronting troops loyal to the junta, but nobody really knows yet what’s been happening.
8:00 p.m. GMT: AFP reports that red berets have confronted junta soldiers after the latter tried to arrest a presidential guard commander. It’s probably Abidine Guindo, who helped Amadou Toumani Touré (ATT) escape the presidential palace after mutineers surrounded it last month. The clashes between students and security forces appear to be a separate development.
ORTM continues to broadcast, though the AFP report cited above suggests that shooting has taken place close to the ORTM studios. The usual 8 p.m. newscast does not come on, however; instead, a documentary is being aired.
8:15 p.m. GMT: Le Journal du Mali is reporting that red berets have taken over the ORTM compound, in what it describes as an “attempted counter-coup.” Apparently the junta is also going with the counter-coup narrative: CNRDRE spokesman Bakary Mariko told Reuters, “These are elements of the presidential guard from the old regime and they’re trying to turn things around,” adding, “We have the situation under control.”
Despite what Mariko and some journalists are saying, I doubt there are many ATT loyalists left in the parachute regiment or elsewhere in the armed forces. I suspect this evening’s conflict is not about ATT at all, but about who has the power to arrest whom and which soldiers will follow orders from the post-ATT leaders of Mali’s transitional government. No further word about the situation from Africable, and ORTM continues to broadcast its documentary. TM2 is showing “The Bodyguard,” with Kevin Costner and the late Whitney Houston.
10:00 p.m. GMT: AFP reports that gunfire has also been heard in Kati, where members of the junta themselves are under fire, and that the red berets have succeeded in taking over the ORTM (which is still broadcasting entertainment programs). According to Malijet, red berets are in control of one of the bridges over the Niger River, though if there’s been any combat there I certainly would have heard it from my house and so far the night is still quiet. Meanwhile, Xinhua is reporting that the red berets are out to “finish off” Captain Sanogo and his junta, and the AP quotes junta spokesman Bakary Mariko as saying that counter-coup forces are trying to take over the airport so they can fly in ECOWAS supporting troops.
11:00 p.m. GMT: According to AFP there are “several dead” at the ORTM compound, which the CNRDRE says it controls despite numerous claims to the contrary in the media. ORTM is now airing a documentary about Lake Chad. Le Journal du Mali reports that red berets now control both ORTM and the Bamako airport.
11:30 p.m. GMT: Adam Nossiter of The New York Times has been in touch with several CNRDRE officers and reports no consensus among them that a “counter-coup” has been taking place, but all of them are quite concerned about fighting between their men and the red berets. It seems most English-language journalists are describing the red berets as “loyalist troops” or “troops loyal to deposed president Amadou Toumani Touré.” I think it’s highly unlikely, however, that anyone is trying to put ATT back in office, and I doubt even ATT would want his old job back at this point.
11:42 p.m. GMT: I’m hearing heavy gunfire again, for the first time in five hours. It seems to be coming from the northeast, the direction of the Pont des Martyrs and the ORTM compound. It lasts only a minute before the quiet returns.
A banner on Maliweb reads “Latest update: The red berets seem to control the city of Bamako – the ORTM, the airport (two planes just landed – uncertain if these are ECOWAS planes). Many deaths at the ORTM. There is no access to the Kati road. Engine sounds from heavy combat vehicles can be heard at the Kati garrison. The meeting in Ouaga scheduled for today has been canceled. A declaration is awaited on the TV.”
1:00 a.m. GMT: Radio France International, which posted nothing at all about events in Bamako to its website on Monday, finally puts up an item saying the situation here is confused. No kidding.
One commenter on this post says he was at the airport from 6 p.m. until midnight and that, while many shots were fired, the airport appeared still to be in the hands of regular army units, and he wasn’t aware of any planes landing during that period.
Capt. Sanogo phones Radio Kayira (the same radio that AEEM demonstrators tried to storm Monday afternoon) a little past midnight and speaks in Bamanan with the on-air host for about ten minutes. Contradicting every news report issued so far, he denies that there has been any conflict between factions of the Malian army, denies that there has been any fighting in Kati, and claims that the airport and ORTM remain under the control of his men. (The fact that ORTM didn’t broadcast any news tonight was due to technical problems, if we buy this explanation.) Sanogo does allege that unspecified foreigners have been infiltrating the city, and claims that his forces have killed some and captured others. He calls on Malians to come out on Tuesday to oppose foreign forces coming into Bamako. To underscore the seriousness of the moment, Kayira is now playing music by the late Djeli Bazoumana Sissoko, a revered griot whose recordings were broadcast on national radio during coups in 1968 and 1991. (You can hear streaming audio from Radio Kayira here; they have been re-broadcasting Captain Sanogo’s call periodically between Bazoumana recordings.)
ORTM, by the way, continues to broadcast its documentaries, and Africable hasn’t aired anything new on the local situation for five hours.
1:42 a.m. GMT: More gunfire coming from the northeast, lasting less than a minute.
I’m turning in for the night. Tuesday promises to be an interesting day and I plan to spend it at home.