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Coup In Mali Evokes International Condemnation

The U.N. Security Council (UNSC) as well as international rights groups and several nations have condemned Thursday's military coup in Mali and urged the renegade troops involved in it to return power to the civilian government at the earliest.

The 15-member UNSC said in a statement that its members "strongly condemn the forcible seizure of power from the democratically elected government of Mali by some elements of the Malian armed forces."

The statement also called for the "immediate restoration of constitutional rule and the democratically elected government," and urged the rebels "to ensure the safety and security of President Amadou Toumani Toure and to return to their barracks."

The United States also condemned the coup in the West African nation, and reiterated its support for President Toure. Notably, Washington had earlier cited Mali as an example of a thriving democracy in the African continent.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington on Thursday that the U.S. was currently weighing future of the $137-million annual aid it gives to Mali for counter-terrorism and other assistance. She expressed the hope that the recent "military action" in Mali could be reversed quickly and power returned to the civilian government.

France, Mali's former colonial ruler, also suspended cooperation with the country, and urged the rebel soldiers not to harm President Toure. The West African regional body Ecowas termed the behavior of the mutinous soldiers as "reprehensible," while the African Union described the coup as a "significant setback for Mali." Also, the World Bank and African Development Bank said they were suspending all aid to Mali until the ongoing crisis was resolved.

South Africa expressed concerns over consolidation of the separatist movement in Mali's northern regions as well as Thursday's coup. The country's Department of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement that the mutiny in Mali must be "addressed in a manner that does not jeopardize the overall security situation in Mali. This is particularly important in view of the security challenges in the North."

The international reaction comes after mutinous soldiers in Mali announced on Thursday that they had seized power after overthrowing the regime of President Toure, which they accused of mishandling a military campaign against the separatist insurgency movement in the North.

In an announcement on national television early on Thursday, the renegade troops, identified themselves as the "Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State," said that a nationwide curfew was in force and that the country's Constitution remained suspended and other public institutions dissolved.

A spokesman for the group, Lt. Amadou Konare, declared that they had ousted the "incompetent regime" of President Toure over its "inability" to "fight terrorism." He added that the group would hand over power back to a democratically-elected government at a later date.

Toure is currently believed to be in hiding after escaping an attack on the presidential palace by the mutinous soldiers. A former paratroop commander, Toure has been in power in Mali since 2002. He had led a coup that ousted long-time President Moussa Traore in 1991, but returned power back to civilians a year later, and got elected to office for the first time in 2002. Toure was due to step down next month after serving two presidential terms.

The mutiny was initially staged by several dozen soldiers at a military camp in the capital on Wednesday morning before spreading to other parts of the country. The unrest was sparked after Defense Minister Gen. Sadio Gassama visited the camp on Wednesday morning. Reports say the soldiers were angered over the Minister's failure to address their demand for better supplies and arms to tackle an uprising by Tuareg rebels in the North.

The Tuareg uprising demanding independence began decades ago, but it intensified after the return of hundreds of Tuareg fighters who fought in Libya last year on behalf of Col. Moammar Qadhafi. It is reported that dozens of soldiers have been killed in fighting Tuareg insurgents in recent months. However, the government is yet to announce the official death toll. The conflict has also forced more than 200,000 people to flee the region known as 'Azawad.'

by RTT Staff Writer

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