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African leaders scrap Mali trip after runway invasion

posted 29 Mar 2012, 13:20 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 29 Mar 2012, 13:21 ]

Junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo addresses cheering supporters at Bamako airport, telling them he needs to talk to regional leaders. But the supporters' blockade of the runway encourages the regional leaders to give up on their attempt to fly in.

BAMAKO, MALI (MARCH 29, 2012) (REUTERS) - Jets carrying West African presidents for a meeting with Mali's new military leaders were forced to turn back mid-flight on Thursday (March 29) after hundreds of supporters of last week's coup invaded Bamako's main runway.

Carrying banners and waving Malian flags, the pro-junta protesters at Bamako airport, some carrying banners reading "ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) , let us solve our own problems" and "ECOWAS, shame of Africa", streamed onto the runway before junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo persuaded them to leave.

Sanogo explained to his supporters that in order to achieve a period of transition he needed to meet with ECOWAS leaders.

"We would like to ensure a certain period (of transition). I can reassure you that we are there to assure a certain period, so that the Malian people can express themselves. But - you are the intellectuals - in order to achieve this, we would never be able to achieve this without our African brothers, sitting around a table with them to tell them what's going on, to tell them where we are now, and tell them what the Malian people want," Sanogo said.

Mali's neighbours say they are ready to use sanctions and possible military force to dislodge its new army leaders. The United States and former colonial ruler France have condemned the coup.

Five leaders - from Ivory Coast, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Liberia - gathered at Abdijan airport on Thursday to discuss the next step. The sixth member of the planned delegation, Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan, remained in Nigeria, sources said.

An official from regional bloc ECOWAS said the meeting, aimed at pressuring coup leaders to swiftly restore constitutional rule after they ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure, could be rescheduled for Friday if security allowed.

"We would like the heads of ECOWAS to understand that Mali is a sovereign country, and that we will exercise our sovereignty on the whole of our national territory. We don't need any lessons to learn from anybody," said Mahamane Mariko, the spokesman for youth groups in support of the junta.

Meanwhile in Bamako, rival camps of hundreds of youths, some supporting and others opposing the junta, clashed downtown on Thursday, throwing rocks at each other and burning cars and motorcycles.

Political and civil society groups opposed to the junta called a rally to coincide with the arrival of the ECOWAS leaders and to hash out a plan to add pressure on Sanogo.

Mali's coup, seen as a major setback to fragile democratic gains in Africa, was triggered by army anger at President Toure's handling of a Tuareg-led rebellion in north Mali that has gained ground in recent weeks.

Toure, president since 2002, was planning to hand over power following elections set for April.