Mali junta leader Sanogo denies counter-coup rumors

BAMAKO Sat Mar 24, 2012 1:22pm EDT

1 of 2. Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure delivers a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg in this September 7, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Jean-Marc Loos/Files

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BAMAKO (Reuters) - The leader of a military coup in Mali, Amadou Sanogo, appeared on television on Saturday to say he was alive and well, denying rumors that he had been killed in a counter-coup days after seizing power.

"Good evening, people of Mali, good evening comrades in arms, good evening citizens, I am Captain Sanogo and I am here in good health, all is well," Sanogo said in a broadcast aired on state television in the early hours.

Rather than making an extended address, he handed over to a spokesman, who said all the Malian army was behind the coup.

It was not clear when the statement had been recorded.

Sanogo heads the National Committee for the Return of Democracy and the Restoration of the State (CNRDR), a body set up by soldiers who overthrew President Amadou Toumani Toure on Wednesday.

The coup's leaders are seeking to capitalize on popular dissatisfaction at Toure's handling of a rebellion by northern nomadic Tuaregs launched in January.

But they have looked increasingly isolated as a coalition of parties condemned the coup and urged that elections, which had been scheduled for April, be held as soon as possible.

Mali's neighbors, the United Nations, France, the United States and the European Union have all called for a return to constitutional rule.

The regional body ECOWAS said it would not recognize the junta and scheduled a summit in Abidjan on Tuesday to discuss the Mali crisis. The African Union suspended Mali's membership.

The coup has left the West African nation, a stable democracy over the past two decades, in limbo and added to fears of regional instability after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

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The northern rebel MNLA, whose numbers have been swollen by Malian Tuaregs returning from the ranks of Libya's army after Gaddafi's fall, launched their fight for an independent north in January.

Aiming to capitalize on confusion in the capital, they have pushed south to occupy positions abandoned by government forces.

The governor of the northeastern region of Kidal told Reuters late on Friday that government troops had retreated from the frontline after they heard of the coup in Bamako.

"We are now surrounded (in Kidal city) by rebels of the MNLA. The current situation in Bamako contributed much to the weak commitment of soldiers on the frontline," Colonel Salifou Kone told Reuters by telephone.

Sanogo has said he is ready to negotiate with the rebels but that his aim is to maintain Mali's territorial integrity.

Hama Ag Mahmoud of the MNLA's political wing told Reuters in Nouakchott, the capital of neighboring Mauritania: "We are ready to negotiate but there are conditions - the incumbent must be well-established, representative and have the political class behind him, and we must have guarantees from big powers."

Ag Mahmoud said the MNLA's ambitions did not extend beyond the occupation of three northern regions of Mali.

(Additional reporting by Adama Diarra in Bamako and Laurent Prieur in Nouakchott; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Kevin Liffey)

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