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Opposition Leaders Says Mali President Captured by Troops

March 26, 1991

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Soldiers in Mali arrested Gen. Moussa Traore following days of rioting and protests against the embattled president, a prominent Malian lawyer and human rights activist said Tuesday.

Idrissa Traore, president of the Mali Barristers’ Association, said the military was in control in Bamako, the capital, and supported demands for democracy in the West African nation.

Traore, who is also a member of the opposition Committee of Pro-Democracy Associations, is not related to the president.

He said he had no details of Traore’s arrest. Unconfirmed reports say the president was caught at the airport as he tried to flee the country late Monday.

Residents of the city cheered and set off firecrackers after hearing reports that Traore had been detained. There were also reports of looting and gunfire in the downtown area. Burning barricades and tracer bullets lit the night sky.

″Everyone’s in the street. Nobody’s sleeping. We’re all so happy,″ said a woman who answered the telephone at the home of human rights leader and lawyer Demba Diallo. She would not give her name.

A worker at Gabriel Toure Hospital in Bamako said three bodies and eight wounded people had been brought to the center early Tuesday.

Thousands of workers in Mali went on strike Monday, and 45,000 people rallied in the capital to demand Traore’s resignation. For the first time in four days, troops did not fire on anti-government protesters.

Opposition groups said Traore’s troops had killed at least 148 civilians and wounded hundreds during daily pro-democracy protests that began on Friday. Traore says 27 were killed. Neither report could be independently confirmed.

″We hope that now the killings will stop,″ Idrissa Traore said in a telephone interview. ″The military are sympathetic to the people’s demands, and have asked that leaders of the pro-democracy associations meet with them″ on Tuesday.

There has been unrest in the nation of nearly 8 million people since January.

Traore had agreed to free political prisoners, lift a state of emergency and curfew and make other concessions after meeting with opposition leaders on Sunday night. But he has said he would not resign.

Diallo said the strike called by the National Union of Malian Workers brought the city to a standstill, but would be stopped because of Traore’s arrest.

Traore seized power in a military coup in 1968, eight years after the country gained independence from France. He installed himself as civilian president of a one-party state in 1979, and he was the sole presidential candidate in 1985 elections.

Traore told France-Info radio station on Sunday that he was not against political pluralism and was willing to hold early elections. Pro-democracy sources said Traore told them he would not step down before his term expires in June.

Sporadic gunfire echoed throughout the capital earlier Monday, but government troops had withdrawn most armored cars, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Linda Buggeln said by telephone.

At least 24 political prisoners were freed Monday, Idrissa Traore said earlier.

Medical sources said other prisoners mutinied while the detainees were being freed and soldiers shot at them, killing 15 and wounding others.

Traore’s No. 2 man, Djibril Diallo, resigned Monday, state radio reported. It quoted him as saying this was ″in agreement with my conscience as a man, a militant and a citizen.″

His attempts to resign last year were refused after he told the ruling party that ″the one-party system has reached the threshold of incompetence.″

He is not related to the human rights lawyer Demba Diallo.

Unrest began Friday when students staged a protest to demand payment of scholarships and an independent inquiries into the deaths of an imprisoned student leader and other government critics.

Troops fired on the demonstrators, killing 28 and starting three days of riots that drew tens of thousands of people into the streets. Students armed with homemade firebombs set fire to several government buildings.

On Sunday, witnesses said government troops fired on protesters, then cordoned off hospitals so the wounded could not get help.