Transitional president Dioncounda Traore warns of “total war” against Tuareg fighters as he takes over from coup leader.
Heavy gunfire has erupted in Mali’s capital, Bamako, on the second day of fighting between forces backing the country’s new military rulers and soldiers loyal to former President Amadou Toumani Toure.
Shooting cracked out from the direction of the state television building on Tuesday, witnesses said, and people were reported to be fleeing the area.
Fighting overnight had claimed at least 14 lives, according to hospital sources who said casualties were on both sides.
Soldiers loyal to Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led the March 22 coup, insisted that important installations in the capital remained in their hands following a counter-coup attempt.
“Elements from abroad, supported by some obscure forces within the country, carried out these attacks. Some of them have been arrested,” an officer said in a message aired on state television.
He said the coup-makers were still in control of the state broadcaster building, the airport, and the military base in Kati near Bamako, after rival forces attacked these locations on Monday.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Bamako, journalist Martin Vogl said that he was in the centre of town on Monday when gunfire broke out.
“Around 5pm or 6pm, local time … we started to hear quite heavy gunfire, automatic weapon fire, coming from a couple of places in the centre of town,” he said.
“People got very tense and tried to get out of the centre of town as soon as the fighting started.”
Witnesses said the shooting followed an attempt by military loyalists to arrest the former head of the presidential guard.
The guard is part of the parachute regiment known as the Red Berets who were thought to have remained loyal to Toure during the coup and only reluctantly submitted to the authority of the junta leaders.
Sanogo said fighting broke out after he had sent some units to the presidential guard barracks to tell them that Malian forces should remain united.
“During the exchange between my guys and the paratroopers, some of them decided to battle us once and for all,” he said.
“But we had been prepared. We managed to kill some and captured others. Among the captives there are foreign troops that we’ll show on TV.”
Residents near the Red Beret’s camp said there had been heavy fighting there on Tuesday, and that pro-junta troops were overrunning the camp.
“Captain Sanogo’s troops have made it into the main camp of the Red Berets in Djicoroni,” a resident near the camp said. “They are going from building to building looking for any of the troops left but I think everyone has left already,” he said.
The coup toppling Toure was internationally condemned, and under diplomatic pressure from Mali’s partners and the junta agreed to hand power over to Dioncounda Traore, the former parliament speaker.
Traore was sworn in as interim president on April 12, but the situation in the country has remained volatile.
Tuareg separatist fighters have taken advantage of the unrest to quickly advance and capture the three main towns in the north of Mali at the end of March.
Sanogo has signed a deal with ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, to return the country to constitutional rule. The deal gave the junta a supervisory role in the transition. But Sanogo said on Sunday that he rejects a plan to send ECOWAS troops to Mali to protect the president’s and prime minister’s office.