Mali Renegade Soldiers Say Have Dissolved Government

Posted March 22nd, 2012 at 6:55 am (UTC-5)
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Renegade soldiers in Mali say they have overthrown President Amadou Toumani Toure, just weeks before the scheduled end of his term.

A group of soldiers appeared on state television Thursday morning after a night of gunfire around the presidential palace.

A spokesman for the soldiers said they had ended the president's “incompetent regime,” suspended the constitution, and created a new committee to rule the country.

The soldiers had expressed frustration with the president for his handling of a resurgent Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali. The rebels have seized several towns and the fighting has forced tens of thousands of Malians to flee their homes.

Kasim Traore, a VOA reporter in the capital, Bamako, said the soldiers have imposed an immediate curfew, urged Malians to remain calm, and pledged to hold elections once national unity is restored and territorial integrity is re-established.

“The long night has ended with a group of soldiers making a declaration on national television — the national television station that was occupied by soldiers Wednesday morning — and they declared they had ended the regime of Amadou Toumani Toure, and put in place the “National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of State”, following an attack at the presidential palace and following the protest at the Kati military camp, directed by Captain Amadou Aya Sanogo. The captain told the population to stay calm and said the committee does not have any ambitions to hold on to power. ”

A number of ministers have been arrested, but the whereabouts of President Toure remain unclear. There were reports that the president had been moved to a safe location away from the fighting.

Mali was scheduled to hold elections next month. President Toure had said he was stepping aside after serving two terms in office.

Wednesday morning, troops began protesting at the Kati military camp in a suburb of Bamako after a meeting with Mali's defense minister that apparently went badly. The soldiers have been demanding better weapons to fight the Tuareg rebels.

Soldiers fired their guns into the air and at least two soldiers were wounded.

Troops also mutinied in the northern garrison town of Gao.

President Toure helped lead a military junta that overthrew Mali's authoritarian regime in the 1990s. He was then elected in 2002, after first turning power over to an elected civilian government. He easily won his second term in 2007.

Tuareg separatists started attacking army bases in Mali's desert in January, after many Tuareg fighters returned from Libya, where they had assisted ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The U.N. refugee agency says the conflict has uprooted 130,000 people in and around Mali. Many soldiers have died in the conflict.

Tuareg nomads have launched periodic uprisings for greater autonomy in both Mali and Niger.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he was following the unrest in Mali with “deep concern.” The U.S. embassy in the capital, Bamako, also said it is monitoring the situation closely. It advised U.S. citizens to stay indoors.