Mali soldiers claim to oust regime in coup
BAMAKO - Agence France-Press
Soldiers crowd a truck in a street of Bamako on March 22, 2012. AFP photoRenegade Mali soldiers claimed they had seized power from an "incompetent regime" today, announcing on television they had suspended the constitution and dissolved state institutions.
The putschists, calling themselves the National Committee for the Establishment of Democracy, said they had acted due to government's "inability" to handle a Tuareg-led insurrection in the north of the country.
A group of a few dozen soldiers appeared on state television at about 0445 GMT after a few false starts battling to get audio equipment working and hours of music videos playing after seizing the broadcaster in Bamako.
The group's spokesman, identified on-screen as Lieutenant Amadou Konare said the takeover was a result of a "lack of adequate material to defend the nation" as well as government's inability to combat terrorism.
He promised an eventual "return to civilian rule".
The leader of the junta was revealed to be one Captain Amadou Sanogo, who appeared briefly to announce the imposition of a national curfew, without specifying the time.
The appearance on television came shortly after the mutinous soldiers seized the presidential palace and arrested several ministers, including Foreign Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga and Interior Minister Kafouhouna Kone. "We are in control of the presidential palace," one of the rebels told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile an independent source said President Amadou Toumani Toure, earlier holed up in the palace as shots were traded outside, had managed to leave the premises.
What began as a mutiny over the government's response to the rekindled Tuareg rebellion in the north on Wednesday afternoon turned into a full-blown coup as soldiers seized control of the government broadcaster and attacked the presidential palace. Witnesses reported heavy gunfire and the use of tracer bullets, while one noted flames coming from the southern side of the presidential palace, perched on a hill overlooking Bamako.
Calls for calm poured in from abroad as the United Nations, France and United States expressed alarm at the events unfolding in the landlocked west African nation.
Elite paratroopers known as the "Red Berets" had attempted to defend the presidency, but the renegade soldiers claimed the upper hand.
The coup comes just a month before Toure was due to step down ahead of April elections after serving two presidential terms. He was not a candidate.
The president is himself a former soldier who led the ouster of president-for-life Moussa Traore in 1991 before handing power to civilians. He later won an election in 2002 and was re-elected in 2007.
Under his leadership Mali -- which has battled successive Tuareg rebellions since independence and more recently Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) activities -- has since been hailed as a growing democratic success in the region.