Soldiers in Mali have toppled the democratically elected government, ransacking the presidential palace, suspending the constitution and ordering the country’s borders closed
The coup took effect on Thursday morning, a day after troops mutinied in Bamako, the capital, in protest at the perceived weak response of President Amadou Toumani Touré to a growing rebellion by Tuareg nomads in northern Mali.
The Tuareg rebels include fighters recruited by Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader, who returned home late last year with heavy weapons following his death.
Malian troops have repeatedly complained that the government has not given them the necessary arms and supplies to defeat the insurgents.
The whereabouts of Mr Touré , who was due to step down after next month’s elections, have not been confirmed, although there were reports that he was being protected by loyalist soldiers at a barracks in Bamako.
The coup appears to have been launched by relatively junior soldiers, of the newly formed National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR). About two dozen soldiers appeared on state television on Thursday as a spokesman read out a brief statement.
“The CNRDR . . . has decided to assume its responsibilities by putting an end to the incompetent regime of Amadou Toumani Touré ,” said Lieutenant Amadou Konare. “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.”
Despite gunfire throughout the night on Wednesday, the coup was largely bloodless. Troops in the northern town of Gao also mutinied, although it is not clear whether the CNRDR has enough support among the security forces to cement control.
The coup was strongly condemned by Ecowas, the regional West African bloc, as well as former colonial power France and the European Union.
The events also spooked investors in Mali’s gold mining sector, with shares in London-listed Randgold Resources falling 15 per cent.
A former parachute commando, Mr Touré himself led a military coup in 1991 before stepping aside to allow democratic elections. He ran for president in 2002, winning easily, and said he would step down after elections scheduled for April 29 in accordance with the two-term limit.
Gilles Yabi, West Africa analyst with the International Crisis Group, said that while Mr Touré was popular early in his rule, discontent in the military had been building in recent years. Younger officers in particular were frustrated at being passed over for promotion in favour of older candidates.
At the same time, there has been a wider perception among the public that Mr Touré ’s regime was not doing enough to develop the country.
“In one sense the coup was a surprise because the election was just one month away,” Mr Yabi said. “But in another it’s not because of the frustration that has been building in the military forces. It’s more complicated than soldiers not being given enough arms to fight the rebels.”
Criticising the coup, the EU called for “the re-establishment of the constitutional order and the holding of democratic elections as soon as possible”.
A spokesman for the Tuareg rebels, known as the MNLA, told Reuters that they would seek to use the confusion to advance their goal of creating a homeland in the north. “The situation [in Bamako] will allow us to take advantage of the chaos to gain more ground,” Moussa Ag Acharatoumane said.
READ ARTICLE (The Financial Times)