US Joins Condemnation of Mali Coup

Posted March 22nd, 2012 at 9:50 am (UTC-5)
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The United States has joined a growing chorus of condemnation for the apparent overthrow of Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure by mutinous soldiers.

A statement from the White House press secretary Thursday called for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule in Mali. It said the United States stands by the legitimately elected government of President Toure.

A group of soldiers declared a coup d'etat on Malian television Thursday, after taking over state broadcasting services and the presidential palace.

The soldiers say they acted because of the president's incompetence in fighting a rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs in Mali's north.

The chairman of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, released a statement strongly condemning the rebellion and saying it has “no justification whatsoever.”

The European Union is calling for constitutional rule to be re-established as soon as possible. And former colonial power France said it is suspending cooperation with Mali, while urging that President Toure not be harmed.

The president's location is not clear, though some media reports say he is being protected by his presidential guard at an army camp.

The apparent coup took place just a few weeks before the president was due to step down at the end of his second term. Mali is due to hold elections next month.

Soldiers and their families had expressed increasing frustration with the president and what they considered a lack of weapons to fight the Taureg rebels. The rebels have taken over several towns in the north and the fighting has forced tens of thousands of Malians to flee their homes.

The coup leaders announced Thursday they were closing the country's borders, had suspended the constitution and created a new committee to rule the country.

Kasim Traore, a VOA reporter in the capital, Bamako, said the soldiers 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. ”

Wednesday morning, troops began protesting at the Kati camp in a suburb of Bamako after a meeting with Mali's defense minister that apparently went badly. 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.