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Fed up with northern rebellion, Mali soldiers revolt
by Staff Writers
Bamako (AFP) March 21, 2012

US urges peaceful solution in Mali
Washington (AFP) March 21, 2012 - The United States called Wednesday on Mali to resolve differences peacefully amid a mutiny by soldiers upset over the government's handling of a Tuareg rebellion.

The State Department also urged US citizens in Mali to stay indoors after soldiers opened fire in the capital Bamako and seized the state broadcasting station.

"The situation is currently unclear and unfolding quickly," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"We believe that grievances should be addressed through dialogue, not through violence," she said.

Anger has grown in recent weeks over the government's handling of the conflict in which Tuareg attacks have caused up to 200,000 people to flee.

Soldiers have complained about a lack of equipment amid reports of heavy casualties by troops fighting the latest rebellion in the decades-old Tuareg bid for independence.

Troops fired shots in the air and demanded proper weapons after a meeting with newly appointed Defence Minister Sadio Gassama failed to ease tensions. Witnesses reported gunfire outside the presidential palace on Wednesday night.

Renegade Malian soldiers traded gunfire with troops outside the presidential palace on Wednesday and seized the state broadcasting station amid fury over government's handling of a Tuareg rebellion.

President Amadou Toumani Toure was holed up inside the presidency, an advisor told AFP, under protection of his elite paratroopers unit known as "Red Berets" who had taken up position outside government buildings.

"We are in control of the presidential palace. People are shooting towards us and we are returning fire," a member of the presidential guard told AFP via telephone.

Anger erupted among the soldiers who say they are fed-up with a lack of resources and proper weapons as they Tuareg insurgents waging a two-month old battle in the north of the country.

One of the mutineers spoke to AFP as gunfire rang out in the background: "We are doing everything we can so that our demands are met."

France and the United States expressed alarm at unfolding events and urged a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

"The situation is currently unclear and unfolding quickly," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, urging US citizens to stay indoors.

"We believe that grievances should be addressed through dialogue, not through violence," she said.

Panic swept the capital in the late afternoon, with people running in all directions as shots fired by soldiers rung out wildly.

They then occupied the Malian Radio-Television Office (ORTM) at around 1630 GMT, firing off rounds inside the building.

As employees were ushered out of the office, radio and television services went off the air.

"We are tired of the situation in the north", gripped by a Tuareg rebellion, a soldier told AFP among the melee.

The anger erupted several hours earlier when newly-appointed Defence Minister Sadio Gassama visited the Kati military camp some 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the capital to appease tensions over the ongoing insurgency.

His efforts failed and soldiers protested, firing shots into the air as they demanded proper weapons with which to face the rebels who have seized several towns in the northern triangle of the bow-tie shaped nation.

"We want ammunition to go and fight the Tuareg rebels. Enough is enough," a corporal at the Kati camp told AFP.

"The defence minister came to Kati, but he failed to convince us."

The corporal, who would not give his name, said the soldiers were not seeking the departure of President Amadou Toumani Toure - who is due to step down ahead of an April 29 presidential election after completing two mandates.

"He is our president, but he needs to fix things."

France called "for respect for the constitutional order and condemns any recourse to violence," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said in a statement.

Anger has grown in recent weeks over the government's handling of the conflict in which the Tuareg attacks have caused up to 200,000 people to flee.

While no official death toll is available, many soldiers are believed to have died in the fighting. When the town of Aguelhok was captured, up to 100 soldiers and civilians were summarily executed, France said in February.

That same month, the wives and families of those fighting the rebels took to the streets of the capital and several other cities, and some protests turned violent as they denounced what they said was the government's weak response.

Tuareg rebels, organised under the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) set up late last year, in mid-January launched successive lightening strikes against northern towns.

In some cases soldiers abandoned their barracks in smaller towns, leaving them to the rebels, as they withdrew to defend larger targets in the vast, desert zone.

The Tuareg rebellion is part of a decades-old bid for independence, and this offensive, the first since 2009, was boosted by the recent return of heavily-armed men who fought in Libya for slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

One group fighting alongside the MNLA is the Islamist group called Ancar Dine, Defenders of Islam, which has demanded the imposition of Islamic Sharia law across Mali -- a demand not supported by the larger movement.

On March 13, Ancar Dine released a video showing images of dead soldiers as well as about 30 who were taken prisoner.

A nomadic community of some 1.5 million people, Tuareg of various tribes are scattered between Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Niger and Mali.

Mali and Niger experienced uprisings as the Tuareg fought for recognition of their identity and an independent state in the 1960s, 1990s and early 2000, with a resurgence between 2006 and 2009.

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Fighting escalates in attack on Mali presidency: witnesses
Bamako (AFP) March 21, 2012 - Sustained gunfire rang out as mutinious soldiers attacked Mali's presidential palace Wednesday after seizing the state broadcaster in anger over government's handling of an insurgency in the north.

An announcement on national radio and television indicated one of the officers would shortly address the nation.

"We are hearing more sustained gunfire around the palace," one witness said, noting the use of brightly-burning tracer bullets. Another witness noted "flames coming from the south of the presidency."

One of the renegade soldiers told AFP the situation was "largely to our advantage on the ground at the palace."

Elite paratroopers known as the "Red Berets" had taken up positions around government buildings late this afternoon, but were called back to defend the presidency, where an advisor to President Amadou Toumani Toure said earlier he was holed up.

The official presidency Twitter account denied several hours ago a coup was underway, saying it was merely a mutiny by "deserters who don't want to go to the front and have mutinied".

Toure, himself a former soldier who led the ouster of president-for-life Moussa Traore in 1991 before handing power to civilians, won the election in 2007 and is due to step down in April after serving two presidential terms.

A government official from Gao in the north-east, said soldiers in the military camp there had also "fired shots into the air to protest against the hierarchy."

UN Security Council appeals for calm in Mali
United Nations (AFP) March 21, 2012 - The UN Security Council appealed for calm in Mali and will have an emergency briefing Thursday on the battles in the capital between renegade soldiers and the presidential guard.

"Members of the council expressed concern about the reports of military disturbances in Mali. They appealed for calm from all stakeholders and respect for the constitutional order," said Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the council president for March.

He said the fears were raised during a closed meeting on Wednesday as reports emerged of the fighting in the Mali capital Bamako.

The UN political department was to brief the council on the uprising on Thursday, Lyall Grant added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is also "following with deep concern the developments today in Mali," said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.

"He calls for calm and for grievances to be resolved peacefully and within the democratic process," added the spokesman.


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