Soldiers in Mali say they have seized the presidential palace and arrested top government officials. According to the soldiers, the Malian constitution has been suspended and the civilian government dissolved.
A spokesman for the rebels told AFP that the Malian Foreign Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga and the Interior Minister Kafouhouna Kone, were among top government officials arrested. Another rebel soldier said: "We are in control of the presidential palace."
AFP reports that an independent source says President Amadoou Toumani Toure escaped after a gun battle began in the presidential palace.
According to AP, the mutiny began on Wednesday at a military camp in the capital, during a visit by defense minister Gen. Sadio Gassama.
The mutiny originated in protests at the manner in which the government was handling the Tuareg mutiny in the north. According to AP, the defense minister in his speech failed to directly address issues raised by soldiers about government's handling of the rebellion launched by Tuareg separatists. Soldiers fighting the Tuaregs complained they were not receiving enough supplies of arms and food.
After the minster's speech, soldiers began firing into the air, and a riot broke out. The riot spread quickly after young recruits took about four of their commanding officers hostage and said they would not release them until their demands were met.
By afternoon, the soldiers had seized the government TV and radio stations and launched an attack on the presidential palace. AP reports sound of heavy weapons firing rang out in Bamako for several hours on Wednesday. However, the presidential palace had on Wednesday denied there was a coup in progress, saying it was only a mutiny. The presidential palace tweeted: "There is no coup in Mali. There's just a mutiny."
According to a Swedish freelance journalist Katarina Hoije, whose hotel was close to the TV station, at about 4 p.m.local time Wednesday, soldiers arrived in trucks and surrounded the TV station. They set up machine guns outside the building and soon the TV station and radio went off air. Hoije said: "We saw a couple of trucks, with military on them. They came and started setting up checkpoints. There were military in the streets, stopping people. People were afraid. When we reached our hotel which is just in front of the TV station, there were lots of military outside, and more cars kept arriving pickup trucks with soldiers on them."
The soldiers had earlier denied they wanted to take over the government. AP reports: "The soldiers who took part in the attack said they want to pressure the government to listen to their demands, and not to overthrow the...democratically elected leaders."
While the mutiny unfolded on Wednesday, the US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, said: "The situation is currently unclear and unfolding quickly. We understand that radio and television signals are dead. There are reports of military forces surrounding the presidential palace and movement of vehicles between the palace and the military barracks."
Complaints about the government's incompetent handling of the Tuareg rebellion in the north has been going on for some time. Thousands of people have fled the north since fighting broke out between Tuareg separatists and government troops. Soldiers have complained about the high death rates among troops sent to fight the Tuareg rebels. In February, military widows led a protest and the Malian president was filmed meeting the widows who publicly grilled him on his handling of the rebellion.
Following a media blackout on Wednesday, a group of uniformed soldiers appeared on the TV about 0430GMT Thursday. AP reports there appeared to have been a hitch with the sound equipment and the view switched back to music videos after a short statement.
AP reports the soldiers who appeared in fatigues said they were the "National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State" (CNRDR). The statement read by the spokesman, Lieutenant Amadou Konare, said: "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 (President) Amadou Toumani Toure. 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."