BAMAKO Heavy gunfire erupted near Mali's state television in Bamako on Tuesday on the second day of fighting between forces from the ruling junta and soldiers believed to be loyal to ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure, witnesses said.
Shooting cracked out from the direction of the television building, Reuters witnesses said, and people were fleeing the area along the road to the building.
"We were on our way there, but were told there is fighting going on around the ORTM (state television) and we were told to go back," one witness said. Another witness said there was also shooting in other parts of the city.
The military junta said the fighting, which broke out late on Monday, was an attempt to reverse a March 22 coup that ousted Toure, adding that there was evidence that foreign fighters were backing the effort.
The coup, which derailed April elections meant to replace Toure and which came in the midst of a rebellion in Mali's desert north, has been internationally condemned, and West African regional bloc ECOWAS has said it plans to deploy a force to oversee a transition back to democratic rule.
Speaking to a local radio station overnight, junta chief Captain Amadou Sanogo said the fighting broke out after he had sent some units to the presidential guard barracks to tell them that Malian forces should remain united.
"During the exchange between my guys and the paratroopers, some of them decided to battle us once and for all," he said.
"They tried to seize Kati (army base), take control of the radio and television and the airport. But we had been prepared. We managed to kill some and captured others. Among the captives there are foreign troops that we'll show on TV."
Djibril Bassole, Burkina Faso's foreign minister and a leading mediator in the Malian crisis for West Africa's ECOWAS bloc, said the bloc had sent no troops to Mali yet.
"ECOWAS has not sent any troops on the ground. No decision has been taken in that light," Bassole told Reuters by telephone from the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou.
Bassole said planned talks in Ouagadougou between the junta and ECOWAS mediators on Tuesday had been cancelled because a plane sent the previous day to collect members of the junta for the meeting had not been allowed to land in Bamako.
"As ECOWAS mediators, we are still available to continue the dialogue, which will help Mali normalize its political institutions and bring the army to submit itself under the authority of a civilian government," Bassole said.
The director of Bamako's airport told Reuters early on Tuesday that the airport was shut due to the fighting.
The junta said in a recorded statement, played repeatedly on state television, that it remained in control of the state broadcaster, the airport and the Kati base - which has been the headquarters of the junta leaders.
"These locations have been secured and are in the hands of the security forces," the statement, read by Lieutenant Mohamed Issa Ouedraogo, a junta spokesman, said.
The renewed fighting could be a setback for the gold-producing West African nation after the junta had agreed to an interim government as a first step to restoring constitutional order after the coup.
(Additional reporting by Cheikh Amadou Diouara and Bate Felix; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Alistair Lyon)