The crisis in post-coup Mali continues to deepen, reports Al-Jazeera, as rebel fighters made gains by attacking the northern strategic city of Gao just a day after seizing the provincial capital of Kidal. More:
The two towns are major prizes for the Tuareg rebels, who launched an insurgency in January that was fuelled by the flow of arms from the fall of neighbouring Libya, where many of the rebels had been on the payroll of ex-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Gao is around 1,200km from the capital of Bamako, where junior officers overthrew the elected government and claimed power 10 days ago.
If Gao falls, the only other major city in Mali's north in government hands is Timbuktu. On Saturday, Baba Bore, a radio programmer at the local Radio Alfarouk station in the ancient city, said gunshots were heard earlier in the day.
The families of military members stationed at the city's two camps had evacuated, expecting to be attacked. Shops had closed and checkpoints had been erected on all sides of nearby Timbuktu.
In Gao, a journalist at Radio Aadar said the attack began early Saturday.
"There has been heavy fighting all morning and it's still going on now," Ibrahima Ly said at midday. "We can hear heavy arms fire and machine guns."
"Most of the fighting is just outside town. There is some fighting near the military camp to the east of town. There has been some fighting in the town itself too but that has been quite light. Everyone is scared and locked up at home."
The junta, whose spokesman was holed up in Burkina Faso with authoritarian leader Blaise Compaore claimed today that "we do not want to confiscate power" and "we agree there must be a regular, normal constitutional state of affairs."
But the military members who staged the coup face widespread international condemnation and surely looming sanctions, as well as a northern part of the country that won't acquiesce so easily.