“They’re in a position to take over territories that they would like to be free and independent from the Malian government,” she said. The rebels’ entry into Gao was preceded by an army withdrawal from Ansogo and Bourem, after Tuareg fighters on Friday entered and seized control of the town of Kidal, 1,000km from the capital. The nearly three-month-old insurgency has cost the lives of dozens of Malian soldiers who were sent to fight the separatists, often without enough ammunition. Last week, soldiers at a garrison in the capital began shooting in the air in a mutiny over the treatment of their brothers-in-arms. The mutiny spread to other garrisons and by the evening of March 21, the country’s democratically elected leader had fled the presidential palace and the soldiers had grabbed the seat of government. International condemnation Mali is now facing severe economic sanctions over the coup. The coup leaders has been given a 72-hour deadline to hand power back to civilians, which expires on Monday.
The coup leaders are sending a delegation to Burkina Faso on Saturday to negotiate with regional powers, who are calling for the sanctions. The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, has said that they will close the country’s land borders and freeze its bank account in the regional central bank if the coup leaders do not restore the country’s constitutional order. Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, the man who led the coup, has said that he “understands” the position of the regional body, but begged Mali’s neighbours to deepen their analysis and to examine the reasons that led to the coup, especially the botched operations in the country’s north that cost the lives of soldiers. At a stadium in the capital, several hundred people were bussed in by political parties that are supporting the coup leaders for a rally in support of the coup. Mali was considered one of the few established democracies in the region, and last week’s military takeover has erased 21 years of democratic gains. Those supporting the coup say that Mali’s democratic reputation is an illusion. They point to the widespread corruption that characterised the regime of ousted leader President Amadou Toumani Toure, who went into hiding on the day of the coup and has not been seen since. They held up signs that said: “No to the facade of democracy”.