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Outgunned against rebels, Mali soldiers overthrow government

After a string of defeats against better armed Tuareg rebels, Mali's army staged a mutiny and overthrew the government.

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Tuaregs are a nomadic collection of tribes who share a single language and cultural heritage, residing in a wide band of the Sahara Desert, stretching from Niger and Burkina Faso in the West to Mauritania in the east and up into the north African nations of Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Rebellions in the past have been fought to seek some kind of self-rule, and even to redraw the national boundaries to create a Tuareg state. It is the secular nature of their goals that makes them distinct from, and possibly rivals to, the more Islamist AQIM. The Tuaregs's most recent attacks in Mali have displaced some 200,000 people and exacerbated a growing food crisis in the country as a months-long regional drought has taken hold.  

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France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, condemned the mutiny, as did the African Union, according to the New York Times. Speaking to Europe 1 radio, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that his government “demands the re-establishment of constitutional order, and elections, which were scheduled for April, must take place as soon as possible.”

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged the mutineers to solve their grievances “through dialogue, not through violence.”

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement on Thursday, deploring the mutineers's takeover of Mali's state television along with a large number of journalists at the facility. "We deplore with the greatest energy that the state radio and television facilities have been occupied by the military, and that its antennae has been taken hostage," the group's statement said, in French. "We extend our concern for the journalists who are not able to do their work, and think of the Malian population who are deprived of numerous sources of information." 

Even without a Tuareg rebellion, international attention was being focused on Mali because of a crushing drought. Oxfam estimated that 13 million people across the region could be affected by lower-than-average rainfall and inevitable crop failures, and had launched a $36 million appeal for immediate food assistance to reach a million of the most vulnerable. Now conflict in Mali has added to the numbers of the hungry, and the United Nations is launching a separate appeal to deal with those displaced by conflict.

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