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Malian soldiers gather on a street of Bamako/AFP


Wetangula stranded in Malian mutiny

Malian soldiers gather on a street of Bamako/AFP

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 21- Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula is stranded in Mali’s capital after an attempted mutiny there on Wednesday.

According to ministry officials, Wetangula was due to return to Nairobi on Wednesday night on a Kenya Airways flight before the military putsch forced the airline to cancel landing in Bamako.

Reports said Wetangula was holed up in a hotel in the capital as officials attempt to chart way of getting him out of the volatile city.

French news agency AFP reported on Wednesday that soldiers fired shots in the air in Bamako before storming the state broadcaster to demand better equipment with which to battle an insurgency in the north.

Dozens of soldiers created panic on the streets of Bamako, shooting wildly before occupying the Malian Radio-Television Office (ORTM) around 1630 GMT, rejecting an appeasement bid by the defence minister.

“We are tired of the situation in the north”, gripped by a Tuareg rebellion, a soldier told AFP among the melee.

Several hours earlier, soldiers at a military camp some 15 kilometres (nine miles) from the capital also fired into the air as they demanded proper weapons with which to face the rebels who have seized several northern towns.

“We want ammunition to go and fight the Tuareg rebels. Enough is enough,” a corporal at the Kati camp told AFP.

“The defence minister came to Kati, but he failed to convince us.”

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The corporal, who would not give his name, said the soldiers were not seeking the departure of President Amadou Toumani Toure.

“He is our president, but he needs to fix things.”

Anger has grown in recent weeks over the government’s handling of the conflict in which the Tuareg have seized several towns, causing up to 200,000 people to flee.

While no official death toll is available, many soldiers are believed to have died in the fighting. When the town of Aguelhok was captured, up to 100 soldiers and civilians were summarily executed, France said in February.

That same month, the wives and families of those fighting the rebels took to the streets of the capital and several other cities, and some protests turned violent as they denounced what they said was the government’s weak response.

Tuareg homes and properties were vandalised and angry protesters also aimed their anger at other light-skinned communities such as the Arabs or Mauritanians.

Since mid-January, northern Mali has been rocked by a rebellion fought by the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) and other Tuareg who have taken up a decades-old struggle for independence.

The latest offensive is the largest since 2009 by Tuareg rebels, whose ranks were boosted by the recent return of men who fought in Libya for slain dictator Muammar Gaddaffi..

A nomadic community of some 1.5 million people, Tuareg of various tribes are scattered between Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Niger and Mali.

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Mali and Niger experienced uprisings as the Tuareg fought for recognition of their identity and an independent state in the 1960s, 1990s and early 2000, with resurgence between 2006 and 2009.

The Tuareg are fighting alongside an Islamist group called Ancar Dine, Defenders of Islam, which has demanded the imposition of Islamic Sharia law across Mali and says it now controls three main towns.

However, the main Tuareg movement has distanced itself from this demand.

(Agence France Presse contributed to this report)


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