BAMAKO (Reuters) - Bread and fuel ran low in Mali’s capital Bamako on Friday as mutineering soldiers looted petrol stations and shops and hijacked cars, residents said, while coup leaders sought to consolidate their grip on power.
The mutinous soldiers, angered by what they saw as President Amadou Toumani Toure’s poor handling of a northern rebellion, roamed the streets of the capital after over-running the presidential palace and taking control of state television.
But Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, aiming to capitalise on the confusion in the distant capital, pushed south to occupy positions abandoned by government forces, sources said.
Captain Amadou Sanogo, the head of a body set up by the mutineers, suggested on Thursday that soldiers were trying to arrest Toure.
The president’s whereabouts were unknown, though unconfirmed reports said he was being protected by loyalist troops in the city.
Despite Sanogo’s calls to the soldiers to stop pillaging and respect private property, residents said looting was continuing and had caused shortages while fuel prices have doubled to over 1,300 CFA francs a litre in about 24 hours.
“People are afraid because of the soldiers. Often (they take) what is in the car or they make you get out and take the car or sometimes the soldiers themselves just break into shops,” said Bamako resident Adama Quindo.
Around the city, most shops, petrol stations and businesses were closed while some residents ventured out in search of bread and petrol.
“I am a driver but there is no fuel for the car, I do not even have fuel for my bike to go back home,” said Youssouf Diawara as he queued with other motorists for petrol.
“Bread is becoming scarce, I made a mistake this morning, I should have bought more,” said another Bamako resident, adding he had bought only one loaf.
Mali, which was flooded with men and weapons after Libya’s civil war, was already facing the MNLA Tuareg-led rebellion, a growing Islamist threat and a food crisis when the coup broke out after soldiers mutinied on Wednesday.
A Malian officer in the northern town of Kidal said rebels had occupied the military camp in Anefis, 100 km (60 miles) to the southwest, after government forces withdrew.
“The army has pulled back to Gao,” a source in Timbuktu, another main town in the north, told Reuters, asking not to be named. “There is no longer any military leadership. (The rebels) will take the towns in the north,” he said.
The MNLA said on it website that it had taken Anefis, which lies on the Gao-Kidal highway, after Malian troops abandoned their positions and withdrew to Gao.
The MNLA, whose numbers have been swollen by Malian Tuareg returning from the ranks of Libya’s army, have been fighting since mid-January for an independent north. They have pushed government soldiers out of remote towns but had not yet threatened the regional capitals of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao.
Diplomats and officials said they believed President Toure was being protected by a pocket of loyalist soldiers, as the U.S. embassy formally denied widespread rumours that the president was being sheltered there.
Mutinous soldiers said they would launch an attack on the parachute regiment they believe is protecting the president, who has overseen a decade of relative stability.
Toure, 63, a former paratrooper who seized power in 1991, had gained the nickname ‘Soldier of Democracy’ in his West African state and had been preparing to cede power in April after an election.
Mali’s neighbours, the United Nations and world powers from Paris to Washington called for a return to constitutional rule. Regional body ECOWAS said it would not recognise the junta.
The World Bank and African Development Bank on Thursday condemned the military coup and suspended funds to Mali.
U.S. aid group Millennium Challenge Corporation, suspended operations in the country on Thursday, criticising the “unconstitutional actions” of the mutineers, while the European Commission said on Friday it had suspended development operations in Mali.
Captain Sanogo, president of the newly formed National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR), said the coup had been provoked by the government’s poor handling of the crisis in the north.
Sanogo, who said he had received training from U.S. Marines and intelligence, told pan-African television station Africable on Thursday he would not remain in power but refused to give a timeframe for restoring civilian rule.
Soldiers had long complained they had not been given the right equipment to fight the northern rebels.
“Three months, six months, nine months, it will depend on the structure that we put in place for me to go back to being a soldier. Someone else will do the rest,” Sanogo said.
“We have come asking for decent living conditions and to be treated well ... We will fight for this.”
Restoring state authority to the north was the priority, he said. But, amid reports of arrests of ministers and other senior government officials, Sanogo implied that those detained would face trial for alleged crimes.
“We are not killers. I am not a killer. But the moment was right and everyone will have to face charges before the appropriate authority,” he said.
Additional reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by David Lewis and Bate Felix; Editing by Janet Lawrence, John Stonestreet