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Coup leader calls for peace talks

Mali's US-trained coup leader said he is in control of the country, has no fears of a countercoup and wants peace talks with the rebels whose northern rebellion was the trigger that led him to oust a democratically elected president.

Captain Amadou Sanogo, who appeared exhausted, his voice hoarse, stressed the importance of unity for the West African nation in an interview at Kati garrison outside Bamako, the capital.

What started there on Wednesday as a mutiny of low-ranking officers and rank-and-file soldiers turned into a full-blown coup d'etat.

"Tuareg people in the north, Arab people, are our brothers. ... I want all of them to come to the same table right after this interview, my door is open, we should talk about this process," Capt Sanogo said.

Capt Sanogo's ousting of President Amadou Toumani Toure just five weeks before he was to step down after presidential elections threatens the cause of democracy in a region prone to coups and jeopardises Mali's standing at the heart of the Western-backed fight against Africa's thriving wing of al Qaida.

The European Union, the World Bank and the African Development Bank all have suspended aid because of the coup, and the African Union has suspended the country's membership. The United States is considering suspending all but humanitarian aid.

"Right now I'm in control of all the country," Capt Sanogo, 39, said confidently.

But rebels seeking to create a separate state in northern Mali for the nomadic Tuareg people have taken advantage of the power vacuum to advance to the gates of the strategic northern town of Kidal.

Soldiers are deserting by the dozens while others are retreating without a fight amid disarray in the army command, a senior rebel commander said on Thursday.

The rebels are led by battle-hardened colonels who fought in the army of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi before returning home heavily armed.

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