Mali Soldiers have announced on state television that they have overthrown the government

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Soldiers in Mali have announced on state television that they have overthrown the government of President Amadou Tamani Toure because of his weak leadership in tackling a growing Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.

Renegade troops staged a mutiny in the capital Bamako on Wednesday, taking over the national broadcaster and moving in on the presidential palace. Heavy weapons fire was heard throughout the night.

About two dozen soldiers appeared from the newly formed National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State (CNRDR) appeared on television on Thursday morning, issuing a brief statement saying they represented all the security forces, and had dissolved “the institutions of the republic”.

“The CNRDR … has decided to assume its responsibilities by putting an end to the incompetent regime of Amadou Toumani Toure,” Amadou Konaré, spokesman for the CNRDR, said.

“We promise to hand power back to a democratically elected president as soon as the country is reunified and its integrity is no longer threatened.”

The soldiers also announced an indefinite curfew.

The whereabouts of Mr Toure, who on Wednesday acknowledged the mutiny but said it was not a coup attempt, are unknown. He has ruled Mali since 2002, and was due to step down after next month’s elections.

The country has been stable during his tenure. But a fresh rebellion in January by Tuareg insurgents who are trying to carve out a homeland in northern Mali has placed Mr Toure under strong pressure in recent weeks. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) rebels include Taureg fighters who had served under Muammer Gaddafi in Libya before returning home late last year following his downfall, bringing with them heavy weapons and vehicles.

By contrast, the Malian troops sent to the north to quell the uprising say they were poorly equipped, and suffered several defeats. Dozens of soldiers have been killed and almost 200,000 people have been forced from their homes by the fighting.

A protest by soldiers’ relatives in February brought the capital to a standstill for several hours, but there was little hint that a coup might follow. The mutiny on Wednesday in Bamako was sparked by the visit of Mali’s defence minister to army barracks in the town of Kati, about 13 miles from Bamako. Soldiers accused the minister of failing to arm them properly for the fight against the rebels. Rocks were thrown before troops seized weapons from the armoury and began firing in the air.

Mutineers in pickup trucks then took control of the area around the national broadcaster and forced it off the air. In Gao, a northern town coveted by the MNLA, soldiers took half a dozen senior officers hostage, according to reports.

Jean Ping, head of the commission of the African Union, said he was “deeply concerned by the reprehensible acts currently being perpetrated by some elements of the Malian army”.

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