Mali military forces have staged several mutinies in response to the failure of the central government to handle a rebellion in the north of the country. The Tuareg people are seeking to establish a separate state., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Possible Mali coup as soldiers storm TV station
Sound of heavy weapons heard as soldiers storm the African state's television and radio station in Mali
Wednesday 21 March 2012
Gunshots heard in the Malian capital hours after angry troops started a mutiny at a military base near the presidential palace
Soldiers have stormed the state TV and radio station in Mali, as fears of a possible coup gripped the country after a military mutiny spread from a garrison in the capital to one thousands of miles away.
The sound of heavy weapons rang out, even as a tweet apparently from the presidential palace insisted, "There is no coup in Mali. There's just a mutiny."
Soldiers are angry over the government's perceived failure to come to grips with a northern rebellion by Tuareg separatists that has claimed the lives of numerous soldiers since January.
In Bamako, which has weathered multiple coups, the population was on edge.
Throughout Western Africa, military takeovers usually begin with the seizing of the state broadcaster.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said: "The situation is currently unclear and unfolding quickly. We understand that radio and television signals are dead.
There are reports of military forces surrounding the presidential palace and movement of vehicles between the palace and the military barracks." US were advised to stay off the streets.
The series of events began on Wednesday morning at a military camp in the capital during a visit by the defence minister, General Sadio Gassama. In his speech to the troops, the minister failed to address the grievances of the rank-and-file soldiers, who are angry over what they say is the government's mismanagement of the fight, and the lack of arms and food supplies.
Recruits started firing into the air, according to a soldier contacted by telephone who asked that his name not be published. He said that they then stoned the general's car, forcing him to leave the camp in haste.
By afternoon, soldiers had surrounded the state television station in central Bamako, and by evening, troops had started rioting at a military garrison located in the northern town of Gao.
The soldiers who took part in the attack said they want to pressure the government to listen to their demands, and not to overthrow the landlocked nation's democratically-elected leaders.
In the strategic northern town of Gao, located more than 2,000 miles from the capital, the mutiny started at sundown at a military base just outside the city.
A military student who was at the base and who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety said that the young recruits started shooting in the air. They then took hostage four to five of their senior commanding officers, saying they will not release them until their demands are met.
The Tuareg uprising that began in mid-January is being fuelled by arms left over from the civil war in neighbouring Libya.
The government has not disclosed how many soldiers have been killed, but the toll has been significant. In February, military widows led a protest. In an attempt to diffuse tension, the Malian president allowed himself to be filmed meeting the widows, who publicly grilled him on his handling of the rebellion.