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    Mali Coup Leader Calls for Calm

    Soldiers secure the area along a road outside the presidential palace after a military coup in Bamako, Mali, Friday March 23, 2012.
    Soldiers secure the area along a road outside the presidential palace after a military coup in Bamako, Mali, Friday March 23, 2012.

    The men behind Mali's surprise coup are calling for calm, trying to reassure a wary public faced with looting and growing shortages of food and fuel.

    Mali's state-run television Saturday aired a statement by coup leader Amadou Sanogo intended to dispel rumors that he had been killed.

    "I am Captain Sanogo and I am here in good health, all is well," he said.

    Sanogo also said his men's primary mission was to preserve Mali's territorial integrity and "the security of people and their belongings."

    Video from Mali's capital has shown widespread looting, with debris scattered in the streets.  Some residents say they are afraid to go out, accusing soldiers of taking what they want at gunpoint.

    There have also been long lines at gas stations.  And fears are growing that food and fuel are running out.

    Coup spokesman Amadou Konare used state TV to demand gas stations reopen.

    ''The president of the CNRDR is calling all owners of petrol stations to open the stations without delay in order that the people can have access to supplies.  Security measures had been taken since 0400 am in order to secure them," he said.

    Tense situation

    Despite the assurances, the situation remains tense, and coup leaders have sought to clamp down on dissent.

    Early Saturday, soldiers went to the home of Kassoum Tapo, a prominent member of the Democratic Alliance of Mali, one of the countries leading opposition parties, and arrested him.  Tapo, who had been critical of the coup on French radio, was later released, but other politicians have told the French news agency they fear for their safety and have gone into hiding.

    President Toure

    Meanwhile, questions remain about the whereabouts of ousted President Amadou Toure.  Sanogo told the Associated Press Saturday that none of his soldiers are protecting Mr. Toure, and refused to say if he knew Mr. Toure's location.

    The African Union has said President Toure is safe at an undisclosed location near the capital, Bamako, and is being protected by loyalists.

    Wednesday's bloodless coup has been the subject of international criticism, with condemnation coming from the United States, the European Union and the AU, which also suspended Mali's membership Friday.  The EU and World Bank have also suspended development aid to the West African nation.

    Tuareg issue

    Mali's coup leader is also facing trouble from ethnic Tuareg rebels, who have used the coup to press ahead with their goal of an independent north.  

    Sanogo said a prime reason for the coup was president Toure's poor handling of the rebellion. But Tuareg rebels have pushed forward, taking up positions abandoned by a Malian army that appears to be in disarray.

    On Friday, a member of the rebel MNLA's political wing said the group was willing to discuss an end to hostilities.  Hama Ag Mahmoud also said, the MNLA had no desire to become entagled in Mali's internal struggles.

    "We are ready to negotiate but there are conditions - the incumbent [president] must be well established, representative and have the political class behind him; and we must have guarantees from big country powers, like the European Union, the United States, France, etc,'' he said.

    Well-armed Tuareg separatists started attacking army bases in Mali's desert in January after many Tuareg fighters returned from Libya.

    The U.N. refugee agency says the conflict has uprooted more than 190,000 people in and around Mali.  Many soldiers have died in the conflict.

    Tuareg nomads have launched periodic uprisings for greater autonomy in Mali and Niger.

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