March 22 (Bloomberg) -- Gunfire continued in Mali’s capital, Bamako, after army officers said they toppled President Amadou Toure’s government and suspended the constitution amid a dispute over the handling of a Touareg insurgency in the north.
The National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State will organize elections in Africa’s third-biggest gold producer and power will be restored to a democratically elected leader, spokesman Lieutenant Amadou Konare, surrounded by about two dozen soldiers with some holding machine guns, said in a broadcast on state television today. Elections were previously planned for next month.
“Facing our duty to safeguard the constitution, we decided to take our responsibilities in ending the incompetent regime” of President Toure, Konare said. “Our mission in no way constitutes a usurpation of power and we are committed to restoring power to a democratically elected president.”
Soldiers in the West African cotton producer have complained about their lack of preparation and resources in a campaign to quash a two-month uprising by the Azawad National Liberation Movement, which seeks autonomous rule in northern Mali. Hundreds of soldiers’ wives last month marched on the presidential palace to protest the danger their husbands are being exposed to in the military campaign.
Mali vies with Tanzania to be Africa’s biggest gold producer after South Africa and Mali. Companies including AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the world’s third-largest producer of the metal, and Randgold Resources Ltd., have operations in the country. Mali produced about 44 metric tons of gold in 2011.
Randgold’s shares dropped the most in more than three years, slipping as much as 16.6 percent and were trading 12 percent lower at 5,810 pence at 3:45 p.m. in London. AngloGold declined 1.9 percent to close at 297.37 rand in Johannesburg. Gold for immediate delivery was down 0.6 percent at $1,639.80 an ounce.
Troops blocked roads around the presidential palace in Bamako yesterday. The shooting erupted before a meeting between Malian fighters and the country’s defense minister to discuss Azawad’s ethnic Touareg rebellion. Gunfire continued throughout the night and sporadically this morning.
Soldiers manned key crossroads near closed shops as they sought to enforce a curfew, even as some residents looked on from the streets. “We firmly condemn all acts of looting or vandalism,” Captain Amadou Sanogo, one of the coup leaders, said in the television address.
“I saw two civilians running and a military soldier following them with guns shooting in the air,” said Jens Schwarz, who witnessed the commotion from inside a bank near the TV station yesterday. “At the crossroads there was a wounded solider continuing to shoot in the air from the ground. I heard shooting all around,” he said in an interview today.
“It’s not simply a small mutiny,” David Zounmenou, a researcher in the African conflict prevention program at the Pretoria, South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, said in a phone interview today. “There are very deep divisions about how to deal with the insurgency in the north and we could see some instability while this plays out.”
President Toure is himself a former soldier who in 1991 led a military coup, before organizing civilian elections. He came to power in 2002 after winning elections and was due to step down after next month’s vote, having served two terms in office.
The U.S. said it stands by the legitimately elected government of Toure and denied reports that the leader had sought refuge at its embassy in Bamako, according to an e-mailed statement. Earlier, the Lettre du Continent reported the leader was there, without saying where it got the information. Toure is safe at a military camp, the Associated Press reported, citing a ministerial adviser.
African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping said he “strongly condemns this act of rebellion, which seriously undermines constitutional legality and constitutes a significant setback for Mali and for the ongoing democratic processes on the continent,” according to an e-mailed statement.
The Economic Community of West African States Commission said it “strongly condemns” the mutiny, calling it “reprehensible,” according to a statement on its website yesterday.
The clashes between the army and the Touareg rebels forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The “precarious security situation” in the Sahel desert in northwest Africa has been “exacerbated” by the return of fighters who had supported Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi following his death in October, according to a report by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to the Security Council on Jan. 18.
Weapons and ammunition from Libyan stockpiles, including anti-aircraft artillery and explosives, were smuggled into Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, Ban said. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last month said arms from Libya have also reached his country’s north and are being used by anti-government militias there.
Mali is “heavily dependent” on foreign aid and has close ties with its former colonial power, France, increasing the likelihood of international intervention in support of Toure’s government, Samir Gadio, an emerging-markets strategist at Standard Bank Group Ltd., said by phone from Lagos, Nigeria.
‘Threat of Retaliation’
“There is a threat of retaliation coming from abroad as I don’t think France, the U.S. would like to see the military take power in Mali,” Gadio said.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula, who is currently in Bamako to attend an AU meeting on peace and security, said on his Facebook page that gunfire could be heard from his hotel in the city.
Randgold Chief Executive Officer Mark Bristow said from Mali today the company’s mines are unaffected and he expects future governments to follow “due process.”
AngloGold’s operations “are some distance from Bamako” and haven’t been affected, company spokesman Alan Fine said in an e-mailed response to questions today. Illovo Sugar Ltd. said its presence in Mali isn’t affected by the military action, according to an e-mailed statement.
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