Mutinous soldiers in Mali have taken over state television and announced that they have seized control of the government.
The soldiers said the coup was necessary because of the mishandling of an insurgency in the north.
The spokesman for the soldiers, Lieutenant Amadou Konare, said in a communique that the troops had taken the country’s security into their own hands “due to the inability of the government to give the armed forces the necessary means to defend the integrity of our national territory”.
A soldier at the presidential palace said the presidential guard had failed to defend the palace against the renegade soldiers. They have seized control of the seat of government, but could not find democratically elected leader president Amadou Toumani Toure, who is in hiding.
On national television, a group of about 20 soldiers were shown in fatigues crowding around a desk facing the camera. They introduced themselves as the National Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, or CNRDR.
“The CNRDR representing all the elements of the armed forces, defensive forces and security forces has decided to assume its responsibilities and end the incompetent and disavowed regime of Amadou Toumani Toure,” said their spokesman reading from a statement.
“All the institutions of the republic are dissolved until further notice. The objective of the CNRDR does not in any way aim to confiscate power, and we solemnly swear to return power to a democratically elected president as soon as national unity and territorial integrity are established.”
The sound of gunfire could be heard from the direction of the presidential palace.
The series of events that culminated in the coup began on Wednesday morning at a military camp in the capital, during a visit by defence minister General Sadio Gassama.
In his speech to the troops, the minister failed to address the grievances of the rank-and-file soldiers, who are angry over what they say is the government’s mismanagement of a rebellion in the north by Tuareg separatists.
The rebellion has claimed the lives of numerous soldiers, and those sent to fight are not given sufficient supplies, including arms or food. Their widows have not received compensation.
Recruits started firing into the air on Wednesday, and they stoned the general’s car as it raced away. By afternoon, soldiers had surrounded the state television station in central Bamako, taking the television and radio signals off air for more than seven hours. By Wednesday evening, troops had started rioting at a military garrison in the northern town of Gao, 2,000 miles away.
The Tuareg uprising that began in mid-January is being fuelled by arms left over from the civil war in neighbouring Libya. Tens of thousands of people have fled the north, and refugees have spilled over into four of the countries neighbouring Mali due to the uprising.
The government has not disclosed how many soldiers have been killed, but the toll has been significant. In February, military widows led a protest. In an attempt to defuse tension, the Malian president allowed himself to be filmed meeting the widows, who publicly grilled him on his handling of the rebellion.