Uncertainty reigns in Mali's capital as ethnic Tuareg rebels continued their offensive in the north, a day after mutinous soldiers overthrew Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure.
Angered by the government's mishandling of the two-month old Tuareg rebellion, renegade soldiers ousted Toure just weeks before an election that would have marked an end to his term.
Coup leaders have since suspended the constitution and arrested government ministers, but said they plan to return the country to civilian rule via elections.
'People are afraid'
Meanwhile, Bamako residents said mutineering soldiers looted the presidential palace, gas stations and shops.
Waiting in line to buy gas, Youssouf Diawara said there's no petrol for his car. "[I] don't even have gas for my motorbike to get home," he said.
Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo has called on soldiers to respect private property, but residents say the pillage continues.
Bread has become scarce and the price of fuel has doubled.
"People are afraid because of the soldiers," said Adama Quindo, explaining that soldiers take what is in the car or make the driver get out and take the car itself.
Sometimes, Quindo added, they break into shops.
While many Malians have said they understand the soldiers' grievances, they long for a return to civilian rule.
"We want coup leaders to hold transparent elections, and those who win to stay in power because [we] prefer civilians to the military," said Ibrahim Sangare.
A benefit to MNLA?
Analysts say the coup, which started as a mutiny at a base near the capital, has set Mali back democratically and militarily.
Soldiers said they lacked adequate weapons, ammunition and food as they confronted Tuareg separatists in the north. Numerous troops have died or been captured since the rebellion began in January.
Mali was set to hold a presidential election on April 29, but president Toure, a former army officer and coup leader himself, was not seeking another term as he was nearing the end of his two-mandate limit.
"Their grievances are real and the coup reflects a deep frustration among the soldiers," said Andre Bourgeot, an expert at the Paris-based National Center for Scientific Research.
"The coup was led by rank-and-file soldiers and low-level officers," he added. "However, the coup is not going to get them resources to fight the rebellion in the north. It will take time to set up a new central order -- time that is bound to benefit the rebels."
According to National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA), rebel fighters took a northern town Friday without resistance.
The MNLA's second-in-command told VOA's French-to-Africa Service that they plan to continue their advance south. "The problem," he said, "is not with a specific government, [it] is with the occupation of Azawad," territory in northern Mali the group claims as its homeland.
The rebels include former pro-Gadhafi fighters who have returned to Mali with arms acquired from the Libya conflict.
Occurring in one of West Africa's most established democracies, the coup has sparked a storm of international condemnation.
According to the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS], a high-level African delegation is set to arrive in Bamako to meet with coup leaders and call for a return to constitutional order.