Malians protest against military junta

AFP , Monday 26 Mar 2012

Thousands of people protest against the military junta in Mali calling for the restoration of President Amadou Toumani Toure rule

Malians marched in Bamako Monday to protest against the junta while Tuareg rebels threatened to capture a key northern city, piling political and military pressure on the coup leaders.

More than a thousand people gathered in front of the stock exchange for a brief rally organised by 38 political parties that have formed a united front against the junta which overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22.

"Sanogo, Get Out!" shouted a crowd of men, women and children, referring to coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who has ordered civil servants and private sector workers to return to their posts by Tuesday.

Life returned to normal in the capital Bamako where shops re-opened and people ventured out to do their shopping after several tense days following the mutiny in which renegade soldiers shot their way to the presidency.

In a statement on state television, which they are using to communicate with the population, the putschists had warned against any incidents during the protest, which falls on a public holiday celebrating the country's previous coup d'etat.

On March 26, 1991, Toure led a band of soldiers to overthow the 23-year-old dictatorship of Moussa Traore after a crackdown on a public uprising against the leader.

Having led the country to its first democratic polls a year later, Toure was considered a hero and later democratically elected in 2002. He was due to step down after serving two terms following elections scheduled for April 29.

However last week's coup d'etat, roundly condemned at home and by the international community, has suspended all political processes in the west African nation.

Fourteen members of government, including the prime minister and foreign minister, launched a hunger strike on Sunday at the military barracks where they are being detained in a small room, forced to sleep three to a mattress.

The soldiers' revolt was sparked by an ongoing insurrection by nomadic desert tribes in the north, who in January launched a decades-old battle for independence.

Their last uprising was resolved in 2009, however many of the Tuareg rebels had gone to fight for Libya's slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi and returned to the region heavily-armed and battle-hardened after his demise last year.

Their lightning strikes on several northern towns have overwhelmed a relatively weak, ill-equipped army which seized power claiming it was fed-up with government's incompetence in handling the conflict.

The junta has suggested peace talks, but the rebels pushed forward Monday, targeting Kidal, one of the north's most important towns. On Sunday the army said it had rebelled an attack on the city, 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from Bamako.

Armed Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) said Kidal's fall was "imminent".

The group is fighting alongside the Azawad National Liberation Army (MNLA) who has distanced itself from its demands for the imposition of Sharia law.

The junta has been largely frozen out by the international community in a chorus of rebukes and suspension of aid.

The African Union suspended Mali, while Europe and Canada froze aid and the United States threatened to follow suit.

Leaders from the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will hold an emergency meeting in Abidjan on Tuesday.

The wherabouts of president Toure remain unknown, however the junta has assured is is safe and in good health, without saying whether he has been detained. Earlier Toure's entourage said he was under protection of his elite paratrooper guard.

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