Rebels pile pressure on Mali junta
Bamako - Mali's junta faced mounting military and diplomatic pressure on Monday as West African states mulled sanctions and Tuareg rebels extended their grip on the north after seizing the city of Timbuktu.
Low-ranking officers ousted the government on March 22 on the grounds that the army was failing to quash the insurgency but the power vacuum has allowed the Tuareg to capture key towns virtually unopposed.
As fabled Timbuktu fell on Sunday and the bow-tie shaped nation appeared split in two by the Tuareg juggernaut, time ran out for the junta on a 72-hour deadline set by its neighbours to restore democracy or face heavy sanctions.
The 15-state Economic Community of West African States was due to hold a fresh summit in Dakar Monday and make a decision on whether to close their borders to Mali and cut it off from the regional central bank.
The junta on Sunday announced various compromises in a bid to stave off these sanctions which could bring the landlocked nation to its knees.
Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo declared Mali's constitution "restored" and announced the reinstatement of state institutions, promising elections in which the junta would not take part.
But, the man who led a band of renegade soldiers who overthrew the regime barely six weeks before a presidential election, told AFP the junta was "not going anywhere".
With a disorganised junta struggling to assert its authority and former tourist hubs such as Timbuktu under the control of Islamist-backed rebels, Paris advised French nationals to leave.
"Given the instability of the security situation currently prevailing in the country, notably in Bamako, it is recommended that our compatriots whose presence is not essential temporarily leave the country," a foreign ministry statement said.
The former colonial power, which has around 5 000 nationals in Mali, has led unanimous international calls for the junta to hand power back to President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was due to step down after April polls.
Ecowas' current chairperson, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, said on Sunday he was also worried that Mali was on the brink of being split in two.