Renegade Malian soldiers say they have ended the rule of President Amadou Toumani Toure after seizing control of the presidential palace and the state television station in the West African nation.
In a statement read out on state television on Thursday, the mutineers said the newly formed National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) had dissolved institutions, suspended the constitution and imposed a curfew “until further notice”.
“The CNRDR … has decided to assume its responsibilities by putting an end to the incompetent regime of Amadou Toumani Toure,” Amadou Konare, a spokesperson for the soldiers, said.
A loyalist military source and two diplomats told the Reuters news agency that they believed Toure had taken shelter in a military camp run by soldiers still loyal to him. The 63-year-old was due to stand down after a presidential poll set for April 29.
Captain Amadou Sanogo, whose title was given as president of the newly formed CNRDR, appeared on state television to urge calm and condemn any pillaging.
Heavy weapons fire had rung out in the capital Bamako early on Thursday and the mutineers, who complain they lack arms and resources to face an uprising by Tuareg fighters in the north of the country, forced the state broadcaster off the air.
International condemnation was swift with France suspending co-operation with its former colony while the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation expressed “extreme shock” at the coup in a country which had achieved democratic success in recent years.
In a statement issued by the White House on Thursday, the US called for the “immediate restoration” of constitutional rule in Mali, while the African Union condemned the actions of the soldiers.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s secretary-general, called for calm and for grievances to be settled democratically in a statement released hours before the soldiers said they had seized power.
‘Purely a coup’
One of the mutineers told the AFP news agency that soldiers, who said they closed all borders of the country, had seized control of the palace and that Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, Mali’s foreign minister, was among those being held.
The soldiers also said they had detained loyalist military chiefs at a barracks in the northeastern city of Gao.
Ayo Johnson, the founder and director of Viewpoint Africa, a citizen journalist hub, told Al Jazeera: “The soldiers need to find a peaceful way to resolve the problems with the government, but it appears that they are not going to back down and this is purely a coup.
“The rest of Africa will be quite upset and troubled, because the Mali issue with the rebels has been going on for nearly 20 years and never been truly resolved.”
Niakoro Yeah Samake, a candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, told Al Jazeera that the capital city of Bamako was “very calm” despite some “gunfire here and there”.
Condemning the coup, Samake said he still hoped that next month’s elections would go ahead.
Anger has grown in the army at the handling of a Tuareg-led rebellion that has killed dozens, forced about 200,000 civilians to flee their homes and exposed Bamako’s lack of control over the northern half of the country.
The rebels are seeking to carve out a homeland in the country’s north.
Nii Akuetteh, an independent Africa policy analyst and researcher, told Al Jazeera that the army had been unhappy with the availability of resources for some time.
“There is a segment of the army which has been criticising the president basically for one reason; many people in the army and the populace in the south of the country feel that the president has not armed the army properly and lost key garrisons in the north,” Akuetteh said.
“They hold the view that the president is not fighting strongly enough.”
Soldiers have for weeks appealed to the government for better weapons to fight the rebels, who are bolstered by
fighters who had fought in Libya’s civil war last year.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra said that the events in Mali were a “direct fallout from what happened in Libya”.
He said that the soldiers who had fought along Muammar Gaddafi‘s loyalists, returned to Mali, “inspired by a historic call to establish a sub-Saharan nationalism.”
Toure is a former paratrooper commander who overthrew a dictatorship in a 1991 coup and relinquished power a year later before returning to office via the ballot box in 2002 and securing re-election in 2007.