Mutineering soldiers in Mali announced Thursday they had seized power until a new and democratically elected government is formed in the west African nation.
“The CNRDR ... has decided to assume its responsibilities by putting an end to the incompetent regime of Amadou Toumani Toure,” Amadou Konare, spokesman for the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) said on state television.
Konare also accused Toure’s government of failing to end rebellion in the north of the country before his troops shut down state television and blocking access routes to it.
Toure, in power since 2002, has said he is planning after April elections to hand over the reins of a country known for its gold, cotton and a once-flourishing desert tourist industry now undermined by a wave of hostage-takings by Al-Qaeda allies. The former paratroop commander overthrew a dictatorship in a 1991 coup and relinquished power a year later before returning to high office via the ballot box a decade later.
Military sources told the BBC on Thursday would only say that Toure is in "a secure location."
“We are in control of the presidential palace,” the mutineers told AFP. He said Foreign Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga was among those they were holding.
The announcement came after disaffected soldiers attacked Mali’s presidential palace overnight Thursday after protests over the government’s handling of a nomad-led rebellion in the north exploded into a military coup.
“We now know it is a coup d’etat that they are attempting,” a defense ministry official told AFP, asking not to be named.
It remained unclear how much control the mutineering soldiers had managed to seize in Mali, or if the apparently spontaneous coup had enough momentum to unseat Toure's government.
Anger has grown in the army at the handling of a Tuareg-led rebellion that has killed dozens and forced some 200,000 civilians to flee their homes in the north of a country the size of France.
The Tuareg began in mid-January and is being fueled by arms leftover from the civil war in neighboring Libya –as well as Taureg fighters who had been in late dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s employ.
Soldiers have for weeks appealed to the government for better weapons to fight the rebels. But many mutineers said they now wanted to oust Toure himself.
The government has not disclosed how many soldiers have been killed, but the toll has been described as significant.
In a sign of spreading support for Thursday's mutiny, it was reported in the northern town of Gao that several senior officers had been arrested in the town, home to a key regional operations center.
There was no word from Mali’s presidency. Statements posted by its official Twitter handler earlier in the day said there was no coup attempt.
A military source said a trigger for Wednesday’s events was a visit by the defense minister to a barracks in the town of Kati about 13 miles north of Bamako.
“The minister went to speak to troops but the talks went badly and people were complaining about the handling of the crisis in the north,” the source told AP.