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Mali in Crisis as Soldiers Detain President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Apparent Coup

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: A mutiny in Mali pushes the country into a political crisis, the EU moves to respond to the situation in Belarus, and Ethiopia’s prime minister reshuffles his cabinet as political tensions worsen.

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Apparent Coup Throws Mali Into Political Crisis

Mali is facing a major political crisis after a group of soldiers mutinied at a base near the capital of Bamako and detained President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Prime Minister Boubou Cissé, and other top government officials, following weeks of popular protests against the government.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets to celebrate after news of Keita’s arrest was made public, but some outside observers fear that the mutiny is in fact a military coup against the civilian government. Hours after he was detained, Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament.

Public discontent. Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Bamako in recent weeks to express their anger over the government’s handling of myriad crises afflicting the country. They faulted Keita for the collapse of the economy and the deteriorating security situation in the country’s northern and central regions, where a serious Islamist insurgency has destabilized much of the region.

Simmering public discontent boiled over in March after the Malian government pushed ahead with parliamentary elections despite the dangers posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Keita’s party ultimately won an additional 10 seats in a vote marred by claims of fraud and irregularities. The campaign also saw the arrest and disappearance of Soumaila Cissé, the main opposition leader.

A coup in the making? The M5-RFP coalition, a major pressure group composed of prominent religious and political leaders that has helped organize and encourage the anti-government protests, offered its support to the mutinying soldiers. A spokesman for the coalition told Reuters that the mutiny was “not a military coup but a popular insurrection,” but there is still concern that a full-fledged coup is imminent. A mutiny occurred at the same base in 2012, turning into a military coup that led to the ouster of then-President Amadou Toumani. It is unclear who will step in to govern the country in Keita’s absence.

International response. Tuesday’s events were condemned internationally. Moussa Faki Mahamat, the African Union commission chairman, said in a statement that he condemned “any attempt at anti-constitutional change” and called on the mutineers “to stop all recourse to violence.”

France and the United States, both of which have expended huge resources to help stem Islamist militant activity in the region, also denounced the mutiny. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France “condemns in the strongest terms this grave event,” and the U.S. envoy to the Sahel, J. Peter Pham, tweeted that “the U.S. is opposed to all extra-constitutional changes of government.”

What We’re Following Today 

Sudan normalizes ties with Israel. On Tuesday, Sudan and Israel announced that they were close to concluding a deal that would normalize diplomatic relations between them, days after Israel reached a similar accord with the United Arab Emirates. A Sudanese foreign ministry spokesperson said the government is “looking forward to concluding a peace agreement with Israel,” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed his government was prepared to “do all that’s needed” to complete the deal.

But Sudanese Foreign Minister Omer Ismail distanced his office from the statement, saying it was not authorized and that relations with Israel had not been discussed. Still, it had been widely anticipated that Sudan would be one of the first in a string of Middle Eastern and North African countries to follow the UAE’s lead and normalize relations with Israel.

Hezbollah militant found guilty of Hariri assassination. The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon found one member of the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah guilty of the 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Three other members of the group were charged as accomplices, but they were acquitted.

Although the tribunal exonerated the leadership of Hezbollah and Syria for lack of evidence, it acknowledged that they “may have had motives to eliminate Mr. Hariri and some of his political allies.” It was widely suspected at the time of the assassination that Syria and Hezbollah were behind the attack in an effort to preserve their influence in the country. But as Rebecca Collard wrote for Foreign Policy, the tribunal’s inability to identify those who ordered the killing makes Tuesday’s ruling largely a disappointment.

The Lebanese government is unlikely to hand over the convicted man, and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly refused to hand over any of the group’s members. The tribunal will sentence the convicted man at a later date.

EU powers ready to act on Belarus. EU officials will hold an emergency meeting today to discuss how best to deal with the worsening crisis in Belarus. According to Euractiv, one EU source said that the purpose of the meeting is to explore new ways to support those protesting against President Aleksandr Lukashenko and “to send an important message of solidarity to the people of Belarus.”

The European Union already announced on Friday that it plans to sanction a list of key Belarusian individuals. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone conversation that external actors meddling in Belarus’s internal affairs could escalate the situation. As Leonid Gozman wrote for Foreign Policy, Lukashenko’s long-term survival now depends on a Russian intervention.

IRA members arrested across Ireland. British and Irish authorities conducted a joint raid on suspected members of the paramilitary New Irish Republican Army across Ireland on Tuesday, arresting 10 individuals under antiterrorism legislation. Officials said Tuesday’s sweep was part of an ongoing investigation into the group’s activities, occurring just days after it held an armed show of strength in the city of Derry. Members of the New IRA were most recently implicated in the killing of journalist Lyra McKee in April 2019.

The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union sparked concerns that the construction of physical infrastructure on the Irish border could antagonize the New IRA and revive militant activity in the country. But as Foreign Policy reported in May 2019, paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland had been on the rise for several years before Brexit.

Cabinet reshuffle in Ethiopia. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ousted 10 high-ranking government officials on Tuesday as part of a major cabinet reshuffle that comes as the country continues to grapple with the looming threat of social unrest. Notably, Abiy replaced his former ally Lemma Megersa as defense minister.

Abiy has received international praise for his efforts at introducing democratic reforms to Ethiopia and attempting to overcome the country’s deep ethnic divisions. Lemma fell out with Abiy in November when he publicly criticized the prime minister’s management of the transition, including his attempt to merge individual ethnically-based parties into a single political entity. Lemma was replaced by Kenea Yadeta, a former security chief of the Oromia region, where ethnic tensions have been simmering in recent years.

Decadent dogs. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un sees threats to his authority all around him. Known for his penchant to ruthlessly crack down on those he views as rivals, he even stands accused of ordering the assassinations of close relatives. Now, Kim has gone one step further. According to local sources, last month, Kim ordered pet dogs in the capital of Pyongyang to be rounded up and confiscated, claiming they represent “Western decadence” and are little more than a “‘tainted’ trend by bourgeois ideology.”

The report said that high-ranking North Korean officials often keep pets as a show of status, and the regime’s decision to confiscate pets from ordinary people has stoked some resentment.

That’s it for today. 

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