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EU Condemns Mali Coup

General view over the offices of the state radio and television broadcaster after Malian soldiers announced a coup d'etat, in the capital Bamako, March 22, 2012.

The European Union has called for constitutional rule to return to Mali "as soon as possible" following an apparent coup d’etat by mutinous soldiers. The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the mutiny Thursday.

"We condemn the coup d'etat that seems to have happened in Bamako and the suspension of the Republican Institutions in the country," said Michael Mann, the spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Ashton. "And we are calling for the constitutional order to be re-established as soon as possible and that there should be democratic elections very soon as well."

Elections were due to take place in Mali at the end of next month. President Amadou Toumani Toure, whose whereabouts are currently unclear, had already pledged to stand down.

Mann says the president’s apparent ousting has come as a surprise in Europe.

"We weren't aware of it," he said. "Obviously there is a tricky period in Mali at the moment and there is the rebellion going on in the north and there is violence but we certainly hadn't seen this coming. And we're just calling on all parties to make sure that human life is respected."

Rebels from the Tuareg ethnic group have been attacking towns in northern Mali since January. The rebellion gained impetus after soldiers and weapons returning from Libya, where they fought on behalf of Moammar Gadhafi, returned to Mali.

The renegade soldiers, who have taken over the presidential palace, said in a televised statement that they had ousted Toure because of his government’s “inability” to put down the Tuareg rebellion.

The group, calling itself the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy and State, says the constitution is suspended and democratic institutions dissolved. It says it will hand power back to a democratically elected president when the country’s “integrity” is no longer at threat.

Mann says the EU has a delegation on the ground in contact with officials and diplomats but, he says, the situation is chaotic and moving quickly.

"We are following events minute by minute but I can't tell you now exactly where we are with that because things are moving very fast," he said. "But we will actually have a meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers tomorrow in Brussels and that will obviously be a hot topic to see what solid concrete action we can take."

The French government says it is suspending cooperation with its former colony and urged that President Toure not be harmed.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for calm and said grievances should be settled democratically.