Mali soldiers oust president Toure in coup

Thursday 22 March 2012 20.07
Soldiers appeared on television to make their statement
Soldiers appeared on television to make their statement

Coup leaders in Mali have ordered all borders closed after taking over key buildings in Bamako and ousting President Amadou Toumani Toure overnight.

Sporadic gunfire continued to ring out in the capital as condemnation poured in from western powers and the African Union urged "the mutineers immediately to put an end" to the country's first coup in 21 years.

At least one soldier was killed and about 40 people were wounded when the soldiers shot their way into the palace, military and medical sources said.

A military source, who is not part of the junta but has contact with the rebels, said the death toll on the side of those loyal to the President was not known.

France suspended cooperation with its former colony, urging soldiers not to harm Mr Toure who was at a military camp under protection from his elite paratrooper guard.

Washington, which has repeatedly voiced has fears that parts of Mali and neighbouring countries were becoming a safe haven for jihadi extremists, called "for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule."

Troubles in Mali's north where Tuareg tribes have long felt ignored by a southern government and al-Qaeda has taken deep root have turned the region into a tinderbox.

This was ignited when the demise of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi sparked the return of hundreds of heavily-armed Tuareg rebels who had fought for him in Libya and were ready to take up a decades-long struggle for independence.

What began as a mutiny over the government's response to the rekindled Tuareg insurrection in the north yesterday afternoon turned into a full-blown coup as soldiers seized control of the presidential palace and the state broadcaster.

A few dozen soldiers appeared on the screens after hours of music videos played in a loop. They appeared to be largely rank-and-file green-beret soldiers, with only two officers present.

Their spokesman Lieutenant Amadou Konare said the takeover was a result of a "lack of adequate material to defend the nation".

Claiming to represent the nation's defence forces, Lt Konare said the junta "solemnly commits to restore power to a democratically-elected president as soon as national unity and territorial integrity are re-established."

The man presented as their leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, said a curfew would be imposed but did not specify hours and in a subsequent televised announcement, the junta said all borders were closed "until further notice".

Renegade soldiers in the northeastern city of Gao also detained their military chiefs to support the coup.