Mali junta claims control after countercoup try


BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's junta said Tuesday the group still controls the state broadcaster, the airport and a military base after a countercoup attempt.

Soldiers loyal to coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo appeared on state television early Tuesday and said the important installations remained in their hands after Monday's attempt.

But heavy gunfire could still be heard in Bamako Tuesday, suggesting that the junta did not yet have total control over the capital.

Anti-junta forces on Monday took over the country's state broadcaster and attacked the airport and the junta's main military base.

It's been just over a month since a group of soldiers toppled Mali's democratically elected president. Since then, Sanogo signed a deal with ECOWAS, the West African regional bloc, to return the country to constitutional rule. The deal gave the junta a supervisory role in the transition.

Sanogo told a private radio station Monday night that the countercoup had failed and that his soldiers captured foreign fighters.

"We captured some of the foreigners and killed others," Sanogo said. "We'll show these foreigners on the television."

State television showed a small group of prisoners along with guns, ammunition and grenades supposedly belonging to the captured troops.

A senior Western diplomat based in Bamako told The Associated Press that he believed the fighting started when forces loyal to the junta tried to arrest the former head of the presidential guard. The diplomat asked for anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The presidential guard is part of Mali's parachutist regiment, known as the Red Berets. The parachutists were thought to have remained loyal to ex-President Amadou Toumani Toure during the coup, and only reluctantly submitted to the authority of the junta leaders.

At an ECOWAS summit on Thursday in Ivory Coast, West African heads of state announced decisions that went back on an agreement with Sanogo, calling for the soldiers to get out of politics completely and return to their barracks.

Since then the atmosphere between ECOWAS meditators and the junta has been tense.

Sanogo said Sunday that he rejected the bloc's decisions, which included a plan to send ECOWAS troops to Mali to protect the president's and prime minister's office. Sanogo called for ECOWAS leaders to respect the earlier agreement.

Meanwhile, the country is also battling insecurity in the north where separatist rebels have declared independence, and militants are trying to impose strict Islamic law.

Tuareg separatist fighters and Islamic militants took advantage of the chaos caused by the coup in Bamako last month to quickly advance and capture the three main towns in the north of Mali at the end of March. Mali government forces fled south without putting up any major resistance.