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Coup topples 'incompetent regime': Soldiers seize power in Mali

Habibou Kouyate / AFP - Getty Images

Mali soldiers gather on a Bamako street Wednesday. Scores of Malian soldiers mutinied, firing shots in the air and seizing the state broadcaster amid fury over their poorly-equipped efforts to stamp out a Tuareg insurgency in the north.

Updated at 10:47 a.m. ET: Renegade Malian soldiers went on state television on Thursday to declare they had seized power in a coup after the government's failure to quell a nomad-led rebellion in the north.

The soldiers of the newly formed National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) read out a brief statement after heavy weapons fire rang out around the presidential palace in the capital Bamako throughout the night.

The United States later condemned the coup.

"The CNRDR ... has decided to assume its responsibilities by putting an end to the incompetent regime of Amadou Toumani Toure," said Amadou Konare, spokesman for the CNRDR.

"We promise to hand power back to a democratically elected president as soon as the country is reunified and its integrity is no longer threatened," said Konare, flanked by about two dozen soldiers. A subsequent statement declared an immediate curfew "until further notice."

The statements made no reference to the whereabouts of Toure, who for the past decade has presided over one of the more stable governments in West Africa and was due in any case to step down after elections scheduled for late next month.

A soldier at the presidential palace who asked not to be named because he feared reprisal told The Associated Press the presidential guard had failed to defend the palace against the renegade soldiers. The unidentified soldier said while the troops had seized control of the seat of government, they could not find Toure, the country's democratically elected leader.

A statement from U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said: "We echo the statements of the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States and other international partners denouncing these actions. We call for calm and the restoration of the civilian government under constitutional rule without delay, so that elections can proceed as scheduled.

"We stand with the legitimately elected government of President Amadou Toumani Touré. Mali is a leading democracy in West Africa and its institutions must be respected."

The gold- and cotton-producing nation of Mali has struggled to contain a northern rebellion launched late last year by local Tuareg nomads joined by heavily armed fellow Tuaregs returning from Libya after fighting for ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The rebellion, in which dozens have been killed and nearly 200,000 civilians have fled their homes, has added a new layer of insecurity to a region where al-Qaida allies have carried out a spate of kidnappings of Westerners and other crimes.

It has also exposed Bamako's lack of control over the northern half of a country twice the size of France.

The mutineers who complain they lack arms and resources to face the separatist insurgency.

Bing map

Mali army mutineers reportedly attack presidential palace in the capital, Bamako.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called in a statement for calm and for grievances to be settled democratically.

In a sign of spreading support for the mutiny, two military sources in the northern town of Gao confirmed the arrests of several senior officers in the town, a regional operations centre.

Bamako was briefly paralysed last month as hundreds of Malians put up street barricades and burned tyres in the streets to protest at the government's handling of the rebellion.

Toure, in power since 2002, has said he is planning after April elections. The former paratroop commander overthrew a dictatorship in a 1991 coup and relinquished power a year later before returning to office via the ballot box.

'The talks went badly'
A military source said a trigger for Wednesday's events was a visit by the defense minister to a barracks in the town of Kati about 13 miles north of Bamako.

"The minister went to speak to troops but the talks went badly and people were complaining about the handling of the crisis in the north," the source said.

A defense ministry official who was at the meeting said a soldier accused the defense minister of betraying them by not giving them means to fight the rebels. Soldiers then began throwing rocks at the minister before taking weapons from the armory and shooting in the air.

Tuareg fighters seeking to carve out a desert homeland in Mali's north have made advances in recent weeks, including the seizure this month of the key garrison town of Tessalit by the Algerian border.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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