|Mali junta defies deadline to quit power|
Malians rush to stock up after West African neighbours imposed trade and diplomatic sanctions to force coup leaders out.
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2012 22:34
Mali imports all its fuel, which is transported in overland from neighbouring Ivory Coast and Senegal [Reuters]
|Mali's junta has called a national meeting on the country's future as it seeks a way out of a growing crisis and threatened to prosecute ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure.|
"We call the entire political class and all civil society actors to ... a national meeting which will begin on April 5," coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo told journalists on Tuesday, adding that Toure "could be the object of judicial proceedings for high treason and financial wrongdoing."
The junta's offer to hold open-ended talks on transition to civilian rule came as people rushed to stock up on petrol and cash after the 15-state ECOWAS West African bloc launched trade and diplomatic sanctions aimed at forcing the leaders of last month's coup to stand down.
The sanctions are likely to have a stronlgly negative affect on Mali's fuel supply. The landlocked country imports all its fuel, over land from neighbouring Ivory Coast and Senegal, both of which are located on Africa's Atlantic coast.
Meanwhile, the African Union on Tuesday imposed travel bans and asset freeze sanctions on Mali's junta after it failed to heed the pan-African body's call to restore constitutional order.
Moments later, the AU announced targeted sanctions on leaders of armed factions fighting in northern Mali.
Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Mali's capital Bamako, said the impact of the sanctions is being felt on the streets.
"We are starting to see angry protesters who are telling ECOWAS that they should not have to pay [a] price for the political situation in the country," Ahelbarra said.
He continued: "But, we are also seeing petrol stations that are running dry, and people are saying something has to be done to help the Malians, instead of punishing them."
April is one of the hottest months of the year in Mali and the country's hydropower system is unable to carry the load because of low water levels. Fuel is used in the hot months to run diesel generators.
Bathily Seye, the owner of a local chain of gas stations called Afrique Oil, said on Tuesday that if no new shipments are allowed in, his 15 pumps will run dry in days.
"We don't have our own gas. It's all imported,'' he said. "There is absolutely nothing here. We don't have any refining capacity. ... I don't have the stock. In two days, my pumps will run out of gas.''
'Open to discussions'
Mali's president was sent into hiding when a group of disgruntled soldiers started a mutiny at a military base located around 10km from the presidential palace.
AFP - Mali's junta brushed off calls to give up power on Tuesday as world powers sounded the alarm and Islamists tightened their grip on the north, ordering women to wear veils in storied Timbuktu.
Feeling the bite of mounting sanctions and pressure from all sides, the soldiers who seized power on March 22 proposed a national meeting on Thursday and dispatched a team to Nigeria for talks on an exit from the growing crisis.
Since the coup, ostensibly over government's failure to stamp out a northern rebellion, the junta has lost over half the country's territory – an area the size of France – in a matter of days to the rebel juggernaut.
Islamists seized control of the ancient trading hub Timbuktu over the weekend alongside Tuareg rebels and have since chased out their allies and declared to residents and religious leaders that they were imposing sharia law.
This sparked alarm abroad ahead of an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting on Mali, with Paris expressing concern over the Islamist threat in a country considered a democratic success until the coup.
The Tuareg rebels want an independent state while Ansar Dine which has seized Timbuktu wants to impose Islamic law and has linked up with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told AFP the two were "closely tied" and Ansar Dine's "goals are not clear, but it may be to install an Islamic regime across the whole of Mali."
Three of the four leaders of Al-Qaeda's north Africa branch, Abou Zeid, Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Yahya Abou Al-Hammam, were in Timbuktu on Tuesday, security and religious sources in the city said.
Residents reported women in the normally secular city that hosted a major music festival in January were on Tuesday wearing headscarves.
A day after being slapped with sanctions by its neighbours, Mali's embattled military rulers came under travel bans and an asset freeze from the African Union for failing to restore constitutional order.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) already cut off the landlocked country which depends heavily on the import of fuel, also freezing access to its bank account based in Dakar.
In Bamako, long lines formed at petrol stations as panic set in over the impact of the sanctions.
"We hear there is an embargo, we are afraid of shortages so we are taking precautions," said a youth who wanted to fill half a dozen empty bottles.
The junta on Tuesday sent a delegation to Nigeria, where ECOWAS officials could offer the putschists amnesty in exchange for relinquishing power, a foreign ministry source in Abuja said. However, it appeared a deal was not reached.
Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo said in Bamako the junta wanted to prosecute ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure for "high treason and financial wrongdoing."
As the military junta struggled with the intensifying crisis, armed Islamists in the north handed out food and supplies that they seized from humanitarian organisations to residents of Timbuktu, sources said.
Officials from the regional food security office linked to the agriculture ministry and local Red Cross confirmed on condition of anonymity that the goods being distributed were forcibly taken from their stocks.
The fighting in northern Mali began in mid-January by the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), which wants independence for its homeland in the northern triangle of the bow-tie shaped nation.
The Islamist Ansar Dine under notorious commander Iyad Ag Ghaly, wants to implement sharia law in the mostly Muslim but secular state.
A powerful player in northern Mali, Ag Ghaly and his fighters have placed their black jihadist flag around Timbuktu, which was a leading trading and intellectual capital up until the 16th century.
"Last night Iyad Ag Ghaly met the town's Imams (religious leaders). He explained he has not come for independence but to apply Islamic law," said the civil servant Thiam.
The UN cultural agency UNESCO called on the Malian authorities and on the warring factions to respect the desert country's heritage and the "outstanding architectural wonders" in Timbuktu, including ancient manuscripts and earthen buildings such as a nearly 700-year old mosque.
Paris said Tuesday the Tuareg rebels were approaching the central town of Mopti where hundreds fled in panic on Monday as they saw soldiers fleeing their posts amid the rebel advance.
More than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes by the fighting and aid groups have warned that the combination of civil war and drought could lead to one of the continent's worst humanitarian emergencies.