It was on Mali's state television that a rebel faction of the military announced Thursday it was staging a coup to overthrow the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré. On Friday, the station in Bamako ceased broadcasting as rebels constructed barricades around the capital in anticipation of a countercoup by loyalists.

An exchange of gunfire was heard outside the station just before signals were cut off, the Associated Press reported. A brief message made it onto the air telling the city's residents to remain calm.

In a phone interview with the AP, Bamako resident Mohamed Traore said he spoke with rebel soldiers after his TV signal cut out and that he was told military loyalists were planning an attack. Traore said he saw the rebels putting up defensive barricades near the station.

Reports of rebel soldiers massing around the station were confirmed by freelance reporter Katarina Hoije, who is staying at a hotel across from it, AP reported.

Touré was elected in 2002 and was due to step down next month, following national elections.

Military rebels had expressed discontent with Touré's handling of a separate ongoing rebel insurgency by the Tuareg ethnic group in the north. The Tuaregs, a nomadic people, have been fighting for an independent nation in the north, citing disenfranchisement by the Malian government.

Most rebel soldiers reportedly come from Mali's southern regions, and they have borne the brunt of violence in fighting the Tuareg insurgency.

The Malian army was composed of only 7,000 soldiers in a country with a population of 15.4 million. It has now been fragmented into a majority of rebels and a minority of loyalists, although the exact proportions are unknown. Meanwhile, amid the political disarray, the Tuareg rebels continue to advance on northern cities and towns.

Touré has not been heard from since the coup, but African Union Chairman Jean Ping told the AP he believed the president is under the protection of the loyalists.

The president is in Mali for sure -- not so far from Bamako, Ping said. He is safe. We have been assured of that by those who protect him.