Deposed president supposedly under protection of loyalist forces after renegade soldiers stormed presidential palace.
The UN Security Council has condemned a coup in the West African nation of Mali, while top officials said fallout from the conflict in Libya had increased the frustration of soldiers who toppled the president.
Security Council members “strongly condemn the forcible seizure of power from the democratically elected government of Mali by some elements of the Malian armed forces,” a statement said on Thursday.
The 15-nation body called on the soldiers “to ensure the safety and security of President Amadou Toumani Toure and to return to their barracks”.
The council demanded “the release of all detained Malian officials” and the “immediate restoration of constitutional rule and the democratically elected government,” said the statement, read to reporters by Britain’s UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the council president for March.
Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, also condemned the coup and called on its leaders “to refrain from any actions that could increase violence and further destabilise the country”.
The UN’s political chief said there was a link between the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi last year and the Mali coup.
Ethnic Tuaregs who had fought with Gaddafi returned to Mali and joined the Tuareg rebellion against the government, said B. Lynn Pascoe, the UN’s assistant secretary-general.
“Of course there is a relationship because many of the Tuaregs had gone to Libya because there they could earn more money working in the military,” Pascoe told reporters.
On returning to Mali, the ex-Gaddafi fighters and the arms they brought from Libya “clearly added more firepower and drive” to the longstanding Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.
The presence of the former Libya fighters was “one of the things which fuelled the frustration and the anger of the (Mali rebel soldiers) because they didn’t think they were being supported strongly enough in the fight against the Tuaregs,” Pascoe said.
Said Djinnit, the UN envoy for West Africa, was among foreign officials in Bamako at the time of the coup, while attending an African Union meeting.
Pascoe said Djinnit was working with West African governments and the African Union to try to end the crisis. A number of African ministers were also stuck in Bamako after the African Union meeting.
The African Union said in a statement that it strongly condemned the coup and said it was holding discussions with ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, and other regional actors.
It said Jean Ping, the head of the African Union, “strongly condemns this act of rebellion, which seriously undermines constitutional legality and constitutes a significant setback for Mali and for the ongoing democratic processes on the continent”.
South Africa and Nigeria also condemned the coup, while Alain Juppe, the foreign minister of France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, announced the suspension of all state co-operation with the country.
“The Malian people aspire to peace, security and democracy. It is essential to restore the country’s constitutional order, political stability and security conditions while avoiding all violence,” a statement said.
The European Union on Friday decided to temporarily suspend development operations in Mali as EU foreign ministers called for the return of civilian rule.
In a statement in Brussels, the ministers “firmly condemned attempts to seize power by force in Mali.”
They also “called for an immediate end of violence and the release of state officials, the protection of civilians, the restoration of civil, constitutional government and for the holding of democratic elections as planned.”
Call for calm
In Washington, US officials called for calm and said they expected the African Union and ECOWAS to send a high-level delegation to Bamako to seek a resolution to the crisis.
“We stand with the legitimately elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure. Mali has been a leading democracy in West Africa, and those institutions must be respected,” said Victoria Nuland, the state department spokesman.
Meanwhile, the World Bank and the African Development Bank announced on Thursday they were suspending development aid to Mali.
The two multilateral lending institutions said they were joining the African Union and ECOWAS in “condemning the military coup, urging a speedy resolution of the crisis and calling for the restoration of constitutional government to preserve the development gains of the country and its people.”
“Our development operations are suspended, with the exception of emergency assistance,” they added in a joint statement.
A World Bank spokesman confirmed the suspension means the bank will not approve any new development projects or programmes until the crisis is resolved, unless they fall into the category of emergency assistance.
The banks noted that Mali was in the final stages of preparing for democratic elections due to take place next month, and had made “steady economic and social progress, and strengthened its democratic governance” in recent years.