Mali's Tuareg rebels gain ground

2012-04-04 11:17
Bamako - Mali's junta was facing increasing pressure to give up power on Wednesday, with world powers tightening the diplomatic screws as Islamists consolidate their grip on the north.

The UN Security Council members were hammering out a joint statement on the Mali crisis, with agreement expected later on Wednesday on a strong message but without any firm actions proposed.

France called the emergency discussions of the 15-nation council to negotiate a statement condemning last month's coup against President Amadou Toumani Toure and the advance of Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants into towns in the north of the country.

The United States took action on Tuesday, joining the African Union in imposing travel bans on coup leaders as international efforts were redoubled to restore democratic rule in a country descending into chaos.

The US State Department said it would restrict travel to the United States of those "who block Mali's return to civilian rule and a democratically elected government, including those who actively support Captain Amadou Sanogo", the coup leader.

Feeling the bite of the mounting sanctions and pressure from all sides, the soldiers who seized power on March 22 proposed a national meeting on Thursday and dispatched a team to Nigeria for talks on an exit from the growing crisis.

Sanogo told journalists that Thursday's meeting would determine "what will be best for the country in a consensual, democratic fashion".

Since the coup, ostensibly over the government's failure to stamp out a northern rebellion, the junta has lost more than half the country's territory - an area the size of France - in a matter of days to the rebel juggernaut.

Islamists seized control of the ancient trading hub Timbuktu over the weekend alongside Tuareg rebels and have since chased out their allies and declared to residents and religious leaders that they were imposing sharia law.

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