Mali's coup leaders said Monday they are partially reopening the West African nation's main airport even as demonstrators marched in the capital to protest last week's putsch and demand a return to constitutional order.
Junta spokesman Lt. Amadou Konare warned demonstrators to "exercise prudence" on Monday, which marked the 21st anniversary of the last coup in this nation of 15.4 million at the bottom of the Sahara desert. He also said on national television the airport would be partially reopened from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.
"The Malian airspace is open only for civilian transport from today," he said, without giving further details.
Soldiers in Mali led by a middle-ranking U.S.-trained officer, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, surrounded the presidential palace on Wednesday and announced that night they were taking power in this vast and impoverished nation, likely disrupting plans to hold an election in April in which the incumbent, President Amadou Toumani Toure, was not going to run. He has not been heard from since the coup.
About a thousand demonstrators, including members of youth movements and political parties, gathered in central Bamako on Monday to demand a return to constitutional order. Some of the youth groups threatened to march on state TV and radio headquarters, which are under the junta's control. In the end, they did not march on the building, which has been reinforced by mutinous soldiers.
The crowd chanted "down with Sanogo" and "liberate the ORTM," referring to the public broadcaster.
Several politicians addressed the crowd, including Soumaila Cisse, who was one of the favored candidates for the April 29 presidential elections, which are looking increasingly uncertain after the coup.
He said the military should return to protecting Mali, especially as Tuareg rebels are attacking towns in north Mali.
"The army is already responsible for the security of this country, here in Bamako and in the north," he said. "We demand the constitution be respected and the constitutional timing for elections be respected also."
Sanogo's ouster threatens the cause of democracy in a region prone to coups and jeopardizes Mali's standing at the heart of the Western-backed fight against Africa's thriving wing of al-Qaida.
In Washington, President Barack Obama's administration on Monday cut off American aid to the government of Mali after the coup, saying military and other assistance would only resume when the nation's democratic government is restored. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. humanitarian and food assistance will continue for Mali's impoverished citizens. Continued...