NAIROBI, Kenya — Mali’s main airport is shut, the borders are closed and a curfew declared. Mutinous soldiers have taken over the presidential palace and the state broadcaster. Gunshots still ring out in different parts of the capital Bamako.
It's a coup.
Malian soldiers began their mutiny on Wednesday afternoon in a single barracks. It started with a seemingly spontaneous outburst against the minister of defence, General Sadio Gassama, who was visiting the encampment.
The soldiers' key grievance was a lack of arms and equipment needed to properly tackle a Tuareg insurgency that has been triggered by the return of former pro-Gaddafi fighters coming back from Libya with their weapons. The soldiers at Kati Barracks, 13 miles outside Bamako, fired in the air, the minister fled, and the revolt began.
Months after his inglorious death at the hands of rebel fighters, Gaddafi’s influence is being felt far beyond his unmarked grave.
The separatist Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) have scored a string of victories against Mali’s army in the country’s vast northern desert in recent months. A rebel spokesman has already threatened to take advantage of the current confusion over the coup to push forward.
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Twenty-four hours on, it does not look like a pre-planned coup, and it is far from consolidated. The rebellious soldiers have named themselves the National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, (CNRDR), but it remains unclear how much support the coup leaders have, either among the civilian population or the army.
The two-dozen or so soldiers who appeared on state television to declare they had taken over were mostly junior officers. Their leader, Amadou Sanogo, is only a captain. More senior officers and others in the security apparatus — which includes troops trained in counter-terrorism by the US — have not yet declared their position.