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Mali troops loot palace after coup

Soldiers have looted the presidential palace in Mali hours after saying they were taking control of the country. There were conflicting reports on President Amadou Toumani Toure's whereabouts.

Gunfire rang throughout the capital Bamako and soldiers carted televisions and other goods out of the palace following a coup announcement on state television. Toure had been due to leave office after elections on April 29, but now it appears the vote will not be held.

One senior official said Toure was safely ensconced at a military camp, protected by his red beret-wearing guards. Another denied the report.

The mutineers said they were overthrowing the government because of its mishandling of an ethnic Tuareg insurgency in the country's north that began in January.

The rebellion includes fighters who had supported Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and returned home heavily armed when he was overthrown. Tens of thousands of Malian civilians have fled the Tuareg rebellion, prompting fierce criticism of the government.

The coup leaders who declared they were overthrowing the elected president called themselves the National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, or CNRDR.

"The CNRDR representing all the elements of the armed forces, defensive forces and security forces has decided to assume its responsibilities and end the incompetent and disavowed regime of Amadou Toumani Toure," they said, reading from a statement. "The objective of the CNRDR does not in any way aim to confiscate power, and we solemnly swear to return power to a democratically elected president as soon as national unity and territorial integrity are established."

The soldiers said they intended to hand over power to an elected government. More than a dozen candidates were expected to run in the election next month. Toure was not taking part as he already had served the maximum two terms.

The White House called for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule in Mali. "The United States stands by the people of Mali and the legitimately elected government of President Amadou Toumani Toure," said a statement released by President Barack Obama's press office.

France said it is suspending all government co-operation with Mali except for aid and counterterrorism efforts and warned all French travellers to avoid travelling to Mali until further notice.

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