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Mali rulers strive to restore calm

02 May 2012, 18:33

Bamako - Mali's rulers sought to restore calm on Wednesday after pro-junta soldiers stamped out a counter-coup bid by the presidential guard, sparking clashes in the capital that left at least 22 dead.

The head of the military junta that seized power on 22 March, Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, assured the situation was "under control" after an offensive described as an attempt on his life.

Gunfire erupted late on Monday at the national television and radio station, the airport and at Kati, the garrison town near the capital that is the junta's headquarters.

The fighting, which continued on Tuesday, was initiated by presidential guardsmen loyal to ex-president Amadou Toumani Toure, who was ousted by Sanogo in the coup last month.

"I want to reassure the population. I am doing fine. The Committee [junta] is doing fine," Sanogo said in an interview late on Tuesday with the national television and radio station (ORTM).

He termed the clashes "an internal matter that was being managed", and vowed the 06 April deal he signed with west African mediators restoring civilian rule remained in force.

The objective of the assault on the junta's positions in Kati was "the assassination of military chiefs and particularly" Sanogo, Ibrahim Dahirou Dembele, the junta's army chief of staff, told ORTM.

The fighting claimed 22 lives, said hospital sources, who had previously put the toll at 14 dead and 40 injured.

Sporadic gunfire was heard in Bamako overnight on Tuesday, but by Wednesday morning calm had been restored, with junta loyalists controlling key points in the capital, an AFP reporter observed.

The 15km road to Kati was also peaceful.

Fresh elections

A spokesperson for the transitional government, Hamadoun Toure, said on Tuesday that "all appropriate measures" would be taken to restore normalcy.

A message attributed to Sanogo broadcast on Monday blamed the violence on "foreign elements backed by dark forces from inside the country" but the resurgence of fighting underlined the volatility of Mali's political scene.

The bow-tie-shaped west African nation has a new interim president and prime minister mandated with organising fresh elections, but the assault by Toure's loyalists dimmed hopes for a quick return to order.

Tuareg and Islamist rebels have taken advantage of the political chaos by capturing the entire desert north, an area the size of France.

Neighbouring nations from the regional bloc Ecowas have weighed sending in troops to push the rebels out, fearing northern Mali could become a haven for extremist groups.

Under diplomatic pressure from Ecowas and other partners, Mali's junta agreed to hand power over to Dioncounda Traore, the former parliament speaker, who was sworn in on 12 April.

But the new civilian leaders have struggled to contend with the junta, which, though not technically in power, has remained a political player that has made its influence felt.

Sanogo on Saturday rejected a plan by Economic Community of West African States leaders to send in a stabilisation force and also nixed their demand for elections in Mali within 12 months.

A meeting that had been planned for Tuesday between an Ecowas mediator, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, and a delegation of the former junta was cancelled, a source close to the mediators said.



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