Return of Gaddafi army triggers coup in Mali

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Leader toppled after his forces say they cannot hold out against returning mercenaries

Bamako

Soldiers in Mali went on television yesterday and declared the takeover of the government after seizing the presidential palace, closing the country's borders and storming the state broadcaster, dealing a harsh blow to one of the few well-established democracies in the volatile Saharan region.

There was no sign of the President, Amadou Toumani Touré, as mutinous troops rampaged through his palace, looting TVs, computers and other valuables. The military coup comes just one month before elections in which Mr Touré was due to step down.

There were fears that it could help ethnic Tuareg rebels to advance on the capital, Bamako, in a bid to win a northern homeland – a conflict which has intensified since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya sent his Tuareg mercenaries back to their homeland.

A statement read out on television by an army spokesman, surrounded by armed soldiers in military fatigues, said the country was now under the control of the National Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, or the CNRDR. "The CNRDR has decided to assume its responsibilities by putting an end to the incompetent regime of Amadou Toumani Touré," said Amadou Konare, the spokesman.

He also said the army group was suspending the constitution, dissolving institutions and imposing a nationwide curfew.

Mali's government has been fighting an insurgency in the north of the country. Yesterday, the Reuters news agency reported a spokesman for the Tuareg rebel group, the MNLA, as saying that the situation in Bamako would "allow us to take advantage of the chaos to gain more ground".

There are also fears that the Sahara desert, which covers the northern half of the country, has become a training ground for a terror group linked to al-Qa'ida which has kidnapped and killed foreigners. The US has been training Malian troops in counter-terrorism tactics in order to fight rebel groups.

The coup began on Wednesday when fighting broke out in an army barracks near Bamako after the Defence Minister, General Sadio Gassama, made an official visit to the camp. Soldiers revolted when he failed to address the handling of the fight against Tuareg rebels, hundreds of whom have been crossing back over the border from Libya since the death of Gaddafi.

The intensified fighting has forced up to 200,000 people to flee their homes in the past two months, as the well-trained rebels move from village to village and clash with government forces ill-equipped to battle the rebellion.

When news reached Bamako that soldiers were advancing on the capital, businesses quickly shut and the streets became jammed with people trying to leave. Witnesses said they saw soldiers shooting into the air and there was widespread panic as people hurried to flee the city centre.

"Everyone was running in one direction," said Jens Schwarz, a freelance photographer who was near the state broadcaster's building when shooting began. "A taxi came full of military and weapons. The taxi stopped and unloaded the weapons to the military, who were stationed at a crossroads."

Shooting could be heard late into Wednesday night and by yesterday morning Bamako's roads were quiet as people stayed at home.

The military asked soldiers to stop firing into the air "as an expression of their joy" after some casualties from stray bullets were reported.

Sources close to President Touré said he might have sought refuge at the US embassy in Bamako. The Agence France-Presse news agency reported a military source as saying that "the President is in good health and in a safe location", without giving details of his whereabouts. American officials denied he was at the embassy.

Mali has seen two decades of democratic rule after Mr Touré, 63, who himself seized office in a military coup in 1991, handed power to civilians before winning democratic elections in both 2002 and 2007.

Daniel Howden: A dispute in the desert is now a global security issue

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss