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African Union suspends Mali over military coup

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-03-23

The African Union has added its voice to the chorus of condemnation of Thursday's military coup in Mali, suspending the country from its ranks. The West African economic bloc ECOWAS will convene a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

AFP - Mali's Tuareg rebels pressed on Friday with an offensive in the north as mutinous soldiers faced a global backlash for staging a coup over the government's handling of the insurrection.

The African Union temporarily suspended Mali, Europe froze aid and the United States threatened to do the same amid a chorus of rebukes over the coup in a country key to fighting drug trafficking and extremism.

The coup opened the way for Tuareg rebels to deepen their hold on the north, and their National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said it had seized the town of Anefis between the key cities Gao and Kidal.

The MNLA said on its website it "will continue the offensive to dislodge the Malian army and its administration from all the towns of Azawad" -- their professed homeland in the north of the bow-tie shaped west African nation.

The rebellion sparked the coup Thursday by soldiers who say they have been ill-equipped to fight off the desert nomads, many of whom are heavily armed after returning from fighting for Libya's slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

The soldiers attacked the presidential palace and seized state institutions before appearing on television to announce they had toppeld the "incompetent" regime of President Amadou Toumani Toure.

Toure fled and his whereabouts remained unclear. Paris said its efforts to reach him were unsuccessful and urged coup leaders not to harm him.

On Friday, Mali's putschists again took to television to deny the death of their leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, or that loyalist troops had seized state television as rumours swirled on the second day of the junta's rule.

Coup leader Sanogo earlier told journalists Toure was "doing very well", and that members of the government arrested by soldiers were safe.

He said the government leaders being held were "safe and sound."

"We will not touch a hair on their heads. I will hand them over to the courts so that the Malian people know the truth."

The green-beret mid-ranking captain, who speaks with a raspy voice, also revealed he had spent much time at training programmes in the United States, in Georgia and at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia.

He said he was trained under a US scholarship as an English instructor.

Rights group Amnesty International said that in the putsch Thursday at least three people had been shot dead and 28 wounded, while the local Red Cross said it had treated 40 people, mostly for bullet wounds.

As few people ventured out of their homes in the tense capital Bamako, where some soldiers had turned to looting, as the international community acted swiftly against the junta.

The AU Peace and Security Council "decided that Mali should be suspended... until effective restoration of constitutional order is achieved without delay," said Paul Zolo, Nigeria's envoy to Ethiopia and the AU.

AU Commission chief Jean Ping said the bloc and west African group ECOWAS will send a joint team to Mali to seek a return of constitutional order.

Heads of the Economic Community of West African States were due to hold a special meeting in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan on Tuesday, a source in the Ivorian ministry for African integration said.

The EU's executive arm said it was halting development operations temporarily as its foreign ministers called for the return of civilian rule.

The EU stressed that direct support to the population and humanitarian aid would continue. Mali is threatened with a food crisis due to drought.

The World Bank and the African Development Bank suspended aid after Mali's first coup in 21 years and the US threatened to lift $70 million in military and economic aid if constitutional rule was not returned.

China added to the critique which has poured in from the United Nations, France and across Africa.

Twelve Malian political heavyweights, meanwhile, in a joint statement condemned the coup which came just five weeks before a presidential election in which Toure has been due to step down.

"This coup tarnishes Mali's honour and seriously stains the image of our country, seen until now as an example in Africa," said Ibrahima Keita, a former prime minister and presidential candidate.

Mali's woes are viewed as a fallout of the demise of Kadhafi's regime, which employed the Tuareg, who returned armed and jobless from Libya to their desert homes last year and resumed a decades-long independence battle.

The military, one of the continent's weakest according to analysts, was overwhelmed and has accused the government of a lack of support.

Sanogo said Friday it was not only the insurrection by the Tuareg that had prompted the coup but a general malaise within government.

"When a state is already 50 years old, and unfortunately the armed forces and security operate under minimal conditions to defend its territory, this is a failure," Sanogo said, justifying the coup.

Mali is usually seen as politically stable, but unrest in the north, where Tuareg tribes have long felt ignored by a southern government and where Al-Qaeda has also taken root, has created a major security problem.

Under Toure's leadership, Mali -- which has battled successive Tuareg rebellions since independence and more recently Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb -- has been hailed as a growing democratic success.

But in mid-January the Tuareg launched a fresh rebellion for independence, which has seen up to 206,000 people flee their homes.

Date created : 2012-03-23

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