The landlocked and mostly desert nation of Mali had been dealing with Tuareg rebels in the north of its country, which has reportedly grown to the point that several towns fell to the Tuaregs. Tuaregs are a Berber ethnic group that live on the edges of the Sahara that are mostly nomadic, usually found in large numbers in Mali and Niger. They have typically been at odds with the central governments in the area for their marginalization, and the colonial governments that preceded them.
The military has been displeased with the government's handling of the situation and for sometime there's been protests in the capital by families and sympathizers of the military angry with deaths of soldiers and the perceived lack of an effective response by the government to deal with the rebellion. This culminated in the military's coup today, seizing control of the presidential palace.
22 March 2012 Last updated at 07:12 ET Renegade Mali soldiers announce takeover
Rebel troops have appeared on Malian state TV to announce they have seized control of the country, hours after attacking the presidential palace.
The soldiers said a nationwide curfew was in force and that the constitution had been suspended.
The troops, who staged a mutiny on Wednesday, say the government is not giving them enough arms to tackle a rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs.
West African regional body Ecowas has condemned the actions of the troops.
In a statement, it said it had followed the situation with "dismay and mounting concern", describing the behaviour of the mutinous soldiers as "reprehensible" and "misguided".
It comes after the renegade troops had staged a mutiny traded gunfire with soldiers loyal to the government.
A source told the BBC that the foreign minister and a number of other ministers have been arrested.
On Wednesday the mutineers had taken over the state radio and TV broadcaster in Bamako and took it off air.
After several hours of footage of traditional Malian music and dancing, a group of soldiers appeared on screen early on Thursday morning, with a caption identifying them as the "Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State".
The leader of the mutiny was revealed to be Capt Amadou Sanogo, who appeared briefly to announce the imposition of a national curfew, although he did not specifying the time.
A spokesman for the renegade soldiers, identified on screen as Lt Amadou Konare, said they had ended the "incompetent regime" of President Amadou Toumani Toure.
Lt Konare condemned the "inability" of the government to "fight terrorism", and said the soldiers would look to hand over to a democratically elected government.
There has not yet been any reaction from President Toure to the announcement.
The BBC's Martin Vogl, in Bamako, said the exact whereabouts of the President Toure were not known.
However, a loyalist military source close to the president told the AFP news agency on Thursday morning that he was well and in a safe location.
Our correspondent said it was not clear whether the mutinous soldiers, up to 15 of whom were seen on screen, have complete control of the presidential palace or have the support of all the Malian forces.
He said an elite force, known as the Red Berets, could still be loyal to President Toure.
He said Mali has had democratic rule for the last 20 years, during which it has come to be seen as a model which other emerging democracies can look to.
'Recruits riot in the north'
The Kenyan government said its foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, and three officials accompanying him are safe in their Bamako hotel after being stranded in Mali.
They were in the country to attend an African Union meeting.
The unrest began on Wednesday as the country's defence minister started a tour of military barracks north of the capital.
Soldiers fired in the air during the inspection, prompting an immediate strengthening of security around the presidential palace.
Troops are upset with the government's handling of a Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country, and are also reportedly opposed to any potential talks with the rebels.
There was heavy gunfire in Bamako throughout Wednesday, and armoured vehicles had moved in to protect the presidential palace. Gunshots reportedly continued to ring out overnight.
A member of the presidential guard described the fighting to AFP.
"We are in control of the presidential palace. People are shooting towards us and we are returning fire," he said.
In the northern town of Gao, young recruits were said to have begun rioting at a military base, according to the Associated Press news agency.
Both the US and France have urged the soldiers and government to resolve their dispute through peaceful means.
The Tuaregs have forced the army out of several northern towns in recent months.
A presidential election was due to take place in the country in just under a month.
The government had so far refused to postpone the poll, despite the unrest involving Tuareg-led rebels.
The coup would interrupt 20 years of 'democratic' rule, which prompted foreign governments to react negatively. The EU issued a strong criticism of the event.
The Tuareg Rebellion is beleived to have been exacerbated by the return of Tuareg fighters from Libya, bringing with them weapons and experience to supplant those already there.
The UN security council denounced the military coup in Mali. The military council is still looking for the president who was presumably taken by loyalists to a stronghold. The military council has made their public statements, while the president still has not made a statement over what he intends to do.
It's been a week since the coup, and the responses from Mali's traditional partners has been very cold. Its neighbors in West Africa, after having to leave the country after being heckled by demonstrators, have moved to begin sealing the border with Mali, threatening to escalate it into a full blown economic blockade if the government problem there is not resolved by Monday.
Meanwhile the former president's exact whereabouts are still unknown, though he is still in the country and not in the custody of the military.the Tuareg rebellion seems to be proceeding with out any change despite the military's assumption of power. Today, the rebels seized the regional capital in the north, Kidal.
Mali coup: Rebels seize desert capital Kidal
Rebels in Mali have captured the town of Kidal, just a week after the military seized power saying the army needed more equipment to fight the insurgents.
Kidal, which has 40,000 inhabitants, is by far the biggest town seized by the Tuareg rebels.
As the news was coming through, coup leader Capt Amadou Sanogo asked for foreign help to tackle the rebels.
The coup has been condemned - Mali's neighbours have threatened sanctions.
The regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), said it would close land borders, freeze Mali's assets and impose a financial blockade if the army did not stand aside before Monday.
They have also placed a peacekeeping force on standby. Army withdrawal
Local residents have confirmed rebel claims to have seized Kidal, capital of the Kidal region, which stretches into the Sahara Desert.
Journalist Martin Vogl in the capital, Bamako, says it is a really serious setback for the government, as the town has a large military base.
He says that while the military had said it seized power to help fight off the rebels, in fact, since the takeover, military officers have been more concerned with the situation in Bamako, worrying about relations with the international community and forming a government, than the fighting in the north.
A fighter from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) told BBC Afrique: "[Kidal] is totally controlled [by us], there is no more resistance, all army positions have fallen."
Azawad is the Tuareg name for their home region in the Sahara Desert - Tuaregs have launched several rebellions over the years, complaining that the government based in far-off Bamako was ignoring them.
The army said it had withdrawn from the town.
"To preserve the life of the people of Kidal, the military command decided not to prolong the battle," said a statement from the junta, according to the Reuters news agency.
The latest insurgency was launched last year after Tuareg fighters returned from Libya where many had supported the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
But the rebels have split into two factions, with some calling for the imposition of Sharia law. Queues at banks
Capt Sanogo told journalists in Bamako that the situation was "critical" but did not mention Kidal directly.
"Our army needs the help of Mali's friends to save the civilian population and Mali's territorial integrity," he said.
He repeated promises to hold free elections but said nothing about leaving power, as demanded by Ecowas.
The president of the commission of Ecowas, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, told reporters on Thursday that if the 72-hour deadline was not met, all the 15 countries of the bloc would deny Mali access to their ports, and there would be no transfers to commercial banks in Mali from the regional central bank, based in Senegal.
Mali is one of eight West African countries which use a common currency - the CFA franc.
A delegation of West African leaders met on Thursday in Ivory Coast, after earlier plans for talks with Mali's military leaders were abandoned as coup supporters occupied the airport's runway.
The BBC's John James in Ivory Coast says it is difficult to see how the regime in poor, landlocked Mali could cope if these sanctions were imposed.
He says the financial isolation of the government of then Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo played a key role in weakening his grip on power last year - and he was in a far stronger position than coup leader Capt Sanogo.
There have been long queues of people waiting to withdraw money in Mali's banks all week. One bank will only allow people to withdraw the equivalent of about $1,000 each.
Martin Vogl says many Malians are upset that after 20 years of democracy, the army is once more in charge but there was also growing disillusionment with the ousted government and some feel Ecowas is pushing too hard.
The coup leaders have unveiled a new constitution as well as announcing elections in which those who took part in the coup would be barred from standing. However, no date has yet been set.
Under the new constitution, a transitional committee composed of 26 members of the security forces and 15 civilians would take power.
President Amadou Toumani Toure said on Wednesday that he remained in the country, free and in good health.
President of Novistrana
19th January 2003
might as well call them the "free mali army"
The rebellion has spun out of control despite the military's efforts, and they have been hit by the threats of border closures by their neighbors over the coup's unclear intentions to resume civilian control. The Tuareg rebels have continued unabated from the storm, and from their northern territories they have 'liberated', they have declared a Azawad state along with a 'ceasefire' with the government. The new state is thus far unrecognized.
Western observers have only really taken notice out of fear that among the rebels ranks are groups affiliated to terror groups in North Africa.
Tuareg rebels who overran much of northern Mali after disaffected soldiers toppled the government in the south declared an independent state called Azawad on Friday, cementing the division of the former French colony as its neighbors began drawing up plans for military action to tackle the twin crises of the coup and the apparent secession.
The declaration came within 24 hours of the northern rebels declaring a cease-fire, saying they had completed military operations after achieving their objectives — the capture of a string of settlements in a lightning advance across the desert north of the country.
In a declaration on its Web site, the rebellious National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad said it proclaimed “irrevocably the independent state of Azawad, starting from this day, Friday April 6, 2012.”
The declaration said the rebels recognized the inviolability of their borders with neighboring countries and promised to draw up a democratic constitution.
The proclamation will likely alarm Western powers who have voiced fears that Islamic militants aligned with the separatists want to turn the remote and poor reaches of northern Mali into a redoubt for the regional affiliate of Al Qaeda.
Seeking legitimacy for their declaration, the rebels on Friday cited the charter of the United Nations and separatist ambitions dating to 1958, two years before Mali’s independence from France, and urging foreign powers to recognize Azawad’s status as a new nation.
Recognition, however, seemed unlikely in the turmoil following the coup further south in the capital, Bamako, where Mali’s main political parties have refused to participate in a national conference called by the military junta that toppled the country’s democratically elected president last month.
France, an important regional player, dismissed the independence declaration on Friday, with Defense Minister Gérard Longuet saying a unilateral declaration “which is not recognized by African states would not have any meaning for us.” Algeria, which shares a desert border with Mali, was reported on Friday to have opposed the partition of its neighbor.
Since the wave of independence a half century ago, few, if any, African governments have been comfortable with notions of partition or secession, fearful of similar separatist pressures in their own countries in a continent where colonial-era frontiers often ignore traditional affiliations.
In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde on Friday, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia of Algeria, said his country favored a settlement of Mali’s crisis through dialogue. “Algeria will never accept questioning the territorial integrity of Mali,” Mr. Ouyahia said.
On Thursday, the leader of Mali’s new military junta, which has said it seized power because of the civilian government’s ineffective handling of the Tuareg uprising in the north, pleaded for international help in fighting the Tuaregs in an interview with the French newspaper Libération.
“If the great powers were able to cross oceans to fight against the Islamists, what prevents them from coming to us?” asked the junta leader, Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, alluding to the war in Afghanistan.
But such assistance is unlikely. On Thursday, France ruled out a “military solution” to counter the Tuareg rebels in the north.
The declarations by the main Tuareg rebel group came after other rebel fighters, who helped seize the ancient city of Timbuktu over the weekend, were quoted by local officials as saying that they planned to impose Islamic law there.
The country is effectively divided between the south, controlled by midranking officers who overthrew what had been seen internationally as a democratic government, and the rebels in the north, who have been strengthened by an influx of arms and fighters since the collapse of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s rule in Libya.
Speaking at the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, Mali’s representative said the nation had never faced a graver crisis. “Our people are divided,” Ambassador Omar Daou said. “Our country is threatened with partition.”
In Paris, the French foreign minister, Alain Juppé, told reporters that there would be “no military solution with the Tuaregs — there needs to be a political solution.” He urged neighboring countries like Algeria and Mauritania to press for a political settlement.
Mr. Juppé said France would not send its own troops to oppose the rebellion, but would be willing to offer logistical support for a regional force to support the Bamako authorities, specifically to fight Islamists linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb while negotiations got under way with secular Tuaregs.
Military commanders from the regional grouping known as Ecowas, which has suspended Mali and imposed economic sanctions against the nation because of the coup, met on Thursday in Ivory Coast to discuss their contributions to a 2,000-strong standby force to be created for possible intervention in Mali, The Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of the Islamic rebel group known as Ansar ud-Din, said that following the proclamation of Islamic law in Timbuktu, women would be required to wear veils, thieves would be punished by having their hands severed and adulterers would be stoned to death, according to local officials and a radio journalist quoted by The A.P.
Al Jazeera also reports that the Algerian consulate staff were captured by Ansar Dine in the city of Gao, one of the northern cities captured by Tuareg rebels and a part of their Azawad state.
Tuareg rebels in northern Mali have proclaimed the "independence of Azawad" in a statement on their website and through a spokesperson in Paris.
"We solemnly proclaim the independence of Azawad as from today," Mossa Ag Attaher said on Friday, adding that the rebels would respect "the borders with other states".
Mali has been gripped by instability, following a coup by army officers in the capital Bamako and advances by Tuareg fighters and other armed groups that have seen a string of northern towns fall under their control in the broadly triangular area of desert in northern Mali
Tuareg rebels claim the Azawad region of northern Mali
The MNLA statement on Friday stressed the group's "firm commitment to create the conditions for lasting peace [and] to initiate the institutional foundations for a state based on a democratic constitution for an independent Azawad".
Yet this move has been shot down by the Ansar Dine, an Islamist group which also joined the fight against Malian government forces, who claim to be against independence.
"Our war is a holy war. It's a legal war in the name of Islam. We are against rebellions. We are against independence. We are against revolutions not in the name of Islam," Ansar Dine military chief Omar Hamaha said.
He was speaking in a video exclusively obtained by AFP and France 2 television filmed after the Islamist group's takeover of the fabled city of Timbuktu, where they have imposed Islamic law, forcing women to cover up and burning down bars.
He said they had "more than 120 prisoners" including thieves.
"We have tied them up and taken their weapons. We beat them well and it's likely we will slit their throats," he added, while it was not clear if this threat was aimed at all prisoners.
In the city of Gao, Ansar Dine kidnapped seven Algerian diplomats, according to witnesses and the Algerian foreign ministry.
Ag Attaher, speaking on behalf of the MNLA, called the kidnapping "deplorable", adding that his group had been against that action but finally went along with the move so as to spare lives.
"We are a liberation movement and we support the principles and values of democracy," he said. "We distance ourselves completely from any Islamist movement and their fight for religious law."
A series of international condemnations of the group's "independence" declaration rolled out as bodies around the world discussed the announcement.
A statement from the office of Jean Ping, the AU's commission chair, called the announcement "null and of no value whatsoever.
"[Ping] calls on the international community as a whole to fully support this principled position of Africa."
France, Mali's former colonial ruler, dismissed the declaration of independence, French defence minister Gerard Longuet said.
"A unilateral declaration of independence which is not recognised by African states would not have any meaning for us," Longuet told the Reuters news agency.
Ahmed Ouyahia, Algeria's prime minister, was quoted by France's Le Monde newspaper as saying the neighbouring country would "never accept questioning Mali's territorial integrity".
The UK Foreign Office released a statement saying they have temporarily suspended all in-country services, including consular services and withdrawn their staff from the embassy in Bamako.
Alessandra Giuffrida, an anthropologist in the African Studies Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the UK, told Al Jazeera that the situation is interesting now regarding the legality of creating an independent state for the Tuaregs.
"They are taking advantage of a new situation, which is the lack of a constitutional government in Bamako, which means the MNLA was able to claim, according to international law, independence, and this is a new fact which has never occurred before in the history of the Tuareg," she said.
"According to international law experts this actually gives the Tuareg some ground to fight legally for the independence of their state."
She also went on to say the reaction of the international community is important, as "they have an interest in maintaining the status quo."
"There is economic interest in the north of the country after the discovery of mineral resources."
"The coup leaders were of the view that they would get more support from the people because of the failure of the military establishment to cope with the situation," said Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Bamako, the Malian capital in the south of the country.
"But they suddenly found themselves in a strange situation - the coup leaders lost control of half of the country, and they're now hoping for international support."
The MNLA, which on Thursday said it had halted military operations as a result of their capture of the Azawad, called on the international community to recognise its independence.
"We completely accept the role and responsibility that behoves us to secure this territory," Ag Attaher said. "We have ended a very important fight, that of liberation... now the biggest task commences."
But a Malian military source told the AFP news agency that Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly wielded more power in the north, with the backing of regional al-Qaeda fighters.
"From what we know, the MNLA is in charge of nothing at the moment ... it is Iyad who is the strongest and he is with AQIM," the source said, referring to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Algerian consulate workers abducted
Witnesses told AFP that raiders had hoisted the black Salafist flag that has been the emblem of rebels who had overrun Gao, Timbuktu and other northern towns.
Amnesty International warned that north Mali was on the brink of a "major humanitarian disaster" while Oxfam and World Vision said crippling sanctions against the junta could have devastating consequences.
"All the food and medicine stored by major aid agencies has been looted and most of the aid workers have fled," said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International's researcher on west Africa.
"The population is at imminent risk of severe food and medical shortages that could lead to many casualties especially among women and children who are less able to fend for themselves."
Opposition figures criticize the military's recent moves to arrest political figures, raising doubts as to the government's plans to transition back to civilian control. The deposed president appears to still be missing and the military has yet to reassert control over the Tuareg rebels who unilaterally declared their own Azawad state in the north.
Reported Arrests in Mali Raise Questions About Junta By ADAM NOSSITER
DAKAR, Senegal — Casting doubt on Mali’s transition back to civilian rule after a military coup last month, soldiers arrested a number of leading political figures in the capital late Monday and early Tuesday, according to members of the opposition.
A former prime minister, Modibo Sidibé, was among those arrested, as was a leading member of the opposition and former finance minister, Soumaïla Cissé, who was injured while being seized, the opposition figures said. The men were arrested at their homes by the soldiers, some of whom were masked.
The wave of overnight arrests — Journal du Mali, a Malian Web site, cited at least five — suggests that the junta that seized power on March 22 is not yet ready to give it up despite a series of solemn promises and ceremonies over the previous 10 days, including the swearing-in of a new civilian president.
The arrested political figures were apparently taken to a military encampment outside the capital, Bamako, that serves as headquarters for the junta, the opposition members said. The junta has made no official declaration about the arrests. Mr. Cissé and Mr. Sidibé, who had been arrested previously by the junta, were to have been presidential candidates in an April 29 election that the coup squashed.
The junta, led by an American-trained captain and other junior officers, ended two decades of democratic rule in Mali when it overthrew the government, seized the national television station, looted ministries and unwittingly turned over half the country to rebels in the north. President Amadou Toumani Touré’s government, hailed in the West as a democratic exemplar for the region, crumbled without a fight — suggesting that democracy was far less firmly implanted in Mali than outsiders had long believed and leaked embassy cables had indicted.
After West African neighbors closed their borders with Mali and froze its funds in the regional bank, the junta leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, signed an agreement on April 6 that seemingly ended the coup. Now opposition members are expressing bewilderment at the arrests, saying they put the restoration of democracy in a very uncertain light.
“The situation is very confused,” said Tièma Hubert Coulibaly, head of the Union for Democracy and Development party, who took part in negotiations to form a new government. “Nobody understands why they were arrested. There has been no explanation. There is a great deal of confusion.”
Mr. Coulibaly said he was taking “precautions” for himself, adding that “a whole bunch of people” had been arrested.
Despite the agreement with the regional grouping of West African states, Ecowas, ostensibly ending military rule, it has not been clear how willingly the junta would step aside.
Captain Sanogo suggested even before the interim president, Dioncounda Traoré, was sworn in last week that he would be keeping a hand in running things, saying that “after 40 days we would sit down with Ecowas to decide on another team.”
So even with the selection Tuesday of an interim prime minister, Cheick Modibo Diarra, a scientist, and the inclusion of civilians in negotiations for the transitional government, real command still appears to rest with the military.
“These men have at their disposal a very powerful lever of power, in the relationship of forces,” Mr. Coulibaly said. “They have weapons.”
Among others who were arrested, according to Mr. Coulibaly and Journal du Mali, were a former defense minister, a former director general of the national police and Mr. Touré’s former chief of staff.
“They seem to be consistent in their inconsistency,” said a diplomat in Bamako who was not authorized to speak publicly. “Sanogo is moving in one direction, then another. It’s very disappointing.”
Mr. Coulibaly suggested that Captain Sanogo was not in full control of his forces, a view echoed by the chief aide to another leading political figure, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, a former prime minister who was also to have been a candidate on April 29.
“There is a dichotomy between Sanogo and his troops,” said Mahamadou Camara, chief of staff for Mr. Keïta. “I think that Captain Sanogo does not really control them.” In any event, he added, “it’s rare to see the military give up power after only 15 days.”
As the article points out at the end, there's doubts whether or not the coup leader has full control over his forces as he portrays himself as having. Azawad itself too is believed to have problems as the main group behind the organization, the MNLA, has to assert itself over the disparate groups who've jumped on board with them.
The military junta in Mali claims they have defeated attempts of a counter-coup from supporters of the ousted president. There have been at least 14 killed and many wounded after the fighting blew out in the capital. The military junta says they defeated these rebel soldiers and took control of the barracks they were operating from.
Troops battle for control of Mali's capital Current military leaders say they retain hold of key locations in Bamako after attempted counter-coup claimed 14 lives. Last Modified: 01 May 2012 16:34
Heavy gunfire has erupted in Mali's capital, Bamako, on the second day of fighting between forces backing the country's new military rulers and soldiers loyal to former President Amadou Toumani Toure.
Shooting cracked out from the direction of the state television building on Tuesday, witnesses said, and people were reported to be fleeing the area.
Fighting overnight had claimed at least 14 lives, according to hospital sources who said casualties were on both sides.
Soldiers loyal to Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led the March 22 coup, insisted that important installations in the capital remained in their hands following a counter-coup attempt.
"Elements from abroad, supported by some obscure forces within the country, carried out these attacks. Some of them have been arrested," an officer said in a message aired on state television.
He said the coup-makers were still in control of the state broadcaster building, the airport, and the military base in Kati near Bamako, after rival forces attacked these locations on Monday.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Bamako, journalist Martin Vogl said that he was in the centre of town on Monday when gunfire broke out.
"Around 5pm or 6pm, local time ... we started to hear quite heavy gunfire, automatic weapon fire, coming from a couple of places in the centre of town," he said. Sanogo has signed a deal with the regional bloc ECOWAS to return the country to constitutional rule [Reuters]
"People got very tense and tried to get out of the centre of town as soon as the fighting started."
Witnesses said the shooting followed an attempt by military loyalists to arrest the former head of the presidential guard.
The guard is part of the parachute regiment known as the Red Berets who were thought to have remained loyal to Toure during the coup and only reluctantly submitted to the authority of the junta leaders.
Sanogo said fighting broke out after he had sent some units to the presidential guard barracks to tell them that Malian forces should remain united.
"During the exchange between my guys and the paratroopers, some of them decided to battle us once and for all," he said.
"But we had been prepared. We managed to kill some and captured others. Among the captives there are foreign troops that we'll show on TV."
The coup toppling Toure was internationally condemned, and under diplomatic pressure from Mali's partners and the junta agreed to hand power over to Dioncounda Traore, the former parliament speaker.
Traore was sworn in as interim president on April 12, but the situation in the country has remained volatile.
Tuareg separatist fighters have taken advantage of the unrest to quickly advance and capture the three main towns in the north of Mali at the end of March.
Sanogo has signed a deal with ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, to return the country to constitutional rule. The deal gave the junta a supervisory role in the transition. But Sanogo said on Sunday that he rejects a plan to send ECOWAS troops to Mali to protect the president's and prime minister's office.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies