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New Mali leader defends military coup

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Amadou Sanogo said that government of President Touare, who he deposed, had failed the nation.The acting head of the European Union delegation in Mali has met with the leader of week's coup to ask for a return to constitutional order as soon as possible in the West African country.

Of the conversation on Tuesday, Bertrand Soret said that he asked to see ministers detained by the junta. He said the coup leader promised a visit would be permitted during the day.

"I saw Captain [Amadou Haya] Sanogo this morning and told him that we expect him to find a solution to the current situation that keeps as closely as possible to the constitution" Soret said.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is holding an emergency meeting in the Ivory Coast on last week's coup, condemned by foreign governments and regional organisations.

France, the European Union and the United States have all cut off most of their aid.

ECOWAS

Leaders of eight West African nations studied a possible suspension of Mali's membership from the regional bloc on Tuesday. If taken, the action would be a step to punish the leaders of last week's coup.

Domestic and international pressure is mounting on the newly-installed junta to give up power in what was seen as one of West Africa's strongest democracies, which is also facing a Tuareg rebellion in its desert north.

"We will need today to adopt a common position without equivocation on the political and military double-crisis in Mali," Ivory Coast President and current ECOWAS head Alassane Ouattara said before talks in the Ivorian port Abidjan.

"Our position must consist of a series of actions to take quickly. This position must also be a signal to Africa and the world that ECOWAS can address its problems and make decisions to reinforce stability, cohesion and unity."

An ECOWAS source said it was likely leaders would agree to suspend Mali from the grouping - a largely symbolic measure.

Other options include so-called targeted sanctions - travel bans or asset freezes - on individual coup leaders.

Long-standing crisis

In an interview, army officer Amadou Sanogo, defended the coup he led, saying saying the president he deposed had failed the country.

Sanogo also blamed the toppled government for not doing enough to deal with Tuareg fighters in the north.

"What drove us to end the rule of President Amadou Touare is the long-standing crisis in the north; the armed gangs are killing people and it became very difficult for the developmental programme to succeed, which left the army in a disastrous situation," Sanogo said.

"We’ve set up a technical team to look into possible solutions for the crisis in the north. War and military confrontation is not the preferred choice, and those in the north are our brothers and they can sit with us at the negotiating table," added Sanogo.

Sanogo had already said that he wanted  to negotiate with the rebels, but he also promised to give the army what it needed to halt the insurgency.

Despite facing widespread criticism for the coup, Sanogo said he hoped the international community would accept the reasons for the takeover.

"We will send representatives to international organisations, as well as to friendly countries, to explain the goals that drove us to carry this out," Sanogo said.

Anti-coup protests

Renegade soldiers led by Sanogo had seized control of the capital Bamako and closed the country's borders on Wednesday, forcing President Touare to flee to an undisclosed location.

On Tuesday, however, the new military leadership announced the opening of the main airport to civilians.

"The Malian airspace is open only for civilian transport from today," Lieutenant Amadou Konare, a spokesman, said without giving further details.

The move came a day after about a thousand demonstrators, including members of youth movements and political parties, gathered in central Bamako to demand a return to constitutional order.

Some of the youth groups threatened to march on state TV and radio headquarters, which are under control of mutinous soldiers.

The crowd chanted "down with Sanogo" and "liberate the ORTM," referring to the public broadcaster.

Several politicians addressed the crowd, including Soumaila Cisse, who was one of the favoured candidates for the April 29 presidential elections, which are looking increasingly uncertain after the coup.

He said the military should return to protecting Mali, especially as Tuareg rebels are attacking towns in the north.

"The army is already responsible for the security of this country, here in Bamako and in the north," he said. "We demand the constitution be respected and the constitutional timing for elections be respected also."

On Monday, the UN Security Council issued a statement that "condemns the forcible takeover" of Mali by mutinous soldiers.

It called on them to "cease all violence and return to their barracks" and allow the country to go ahead with previously scheduled elections.

The US has cut off aid to the country. But Victoria Nuland, the state department spokeswoman, said the humanitarian and food assistance would continue for Mali's impoverished citizens.

The European Union, the World Bank and the African Development Bank all have suspended aid because of the coup, and the African Union has suspended the country's membership.


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