Relative calm returns to Mali capital

Fuel stations and market stalls reopen after decrease in gunfire and looting that followed coup in West African nation.

Life in the Malian capital Bamako is slowly returning to normal after mutinous soldiers seized power, toppling the democratically elected government of President Ahmed Toumani Toure.
Fuel stations and market stalls reopened on Sunday after a decrease in the gunfire and looting that followed Wednesday’s overnight coup.

The military junta that ousted Toure has ordered all soldiers back to barracks, but rebels in the country’s north exploiting the coup have been pushing towards three northern towns, the Reuters news agency reported.  

“Compared to those other days, things are calm. We can get on with our lives a bit,” Bouba Traore, a Bamako resident, said while sipping tea with friends under a tree.

“I’m not sure we can say it is completely normal though. We’ll have to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday for that.”

Traffic police returned to busy intersections and workers were back on building sites for the first time in days.

At the Medine market, lorries were unloading mountains of yams, onions and tomatoes from the growing regions of Sikasso and Segou.

Call for talks

News of relative calm came as Captain Amadou Sanogo, the coup leader, announced on Saturday that he was in control of the country and that he had no fears of a countercoup.

Sanogo, a US-trained officer, said he wanted peace talks with the rebels whose northern rebellion was the trigger that led him to oust Toure’s government.

“Tuareg people in the north, Arab people, are our brothers,” Sanogo told the Associated Press news agency in an interview, appearing exhausted and his voice hoarse. 

“I want all of them to come to the same table right after this interview, my door is open, we should talk about this process.”

The coup began after low-ranking officers and rank-and-file soldiers mutinied over what they called government’s failure to rein in a Tuareg-led insurrection in the north.

Mali watchers say Sanogo’s ouster of Toure, coming just five weeks before he was to step down after presidential elections, threatens the cause of democracy in a region prone to coups.

It also jeopardises Mali’s standing at the heart of the Western-backed campaign against Africa’s thriving wing of al-Qaeda.

The European Union, the World Bank and the African Development Bank have all suspended aid because of the coup.

The African Union has suspended the country’s membership while the United States is considering suspending all but humanitarian aid.

Soldiers deserting

A senior rebel commander meanwhile said Malian soldiers were deserting by the dozens while others were retreating without a fight amid disarray in the army command, the Associated Press reported.

The rebels are led by battle-hardened colonels who fought in the army of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi before returning home heavily armed.

Mali’s land borders and airspace remained closed Saturday, trapping thousands of visitors including three African foreign ministers who were there for a meeting. The country has been under a curfew since the coup.

Sanogo would not say where Toure is, or even if he knows his whereabouts. “As a soldier, I have my secrets,” is all he would say.

Pushed about whether Toure is protected by any soldiers, he said: “Not even one.”

He was contradicted by one officer who told the Associated Press that a handful of the red-bereted parachutists who made up the presidential guard remain with the toppled leader. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The African Union also said on Thursday that it had information that Toure was safe, under the protection of Red Berets at a location not far from Bamako.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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