A group of soldiers in the west African country of Mail appeared on national television Thursday claiming to have overthrown the government in a bloodless coup after looting the presidential palace.
The soldiers, calling themselves the National Committee for the Establishment of Democracy, said they had ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure because of incompetence in not giving them enough weapons to counter a rebellion by Tuaregs, a nomadic ethnic group spread across the Sahara Desert, according to the BBC.
The rebels declared a national curfew, closed Mali's borders and reportedly sealed off the airport in the capital, Bamako.
The whereabouts of Toure, the democratically elected president, wasn't known. Several high-ranking officials, including the foreign minister, were arrested, reports said.
Despite confirmation from a Defense Ministry official that a coup was underway, Toure reportedly downplayed the claims, saying the soldiers were little more than an isolated band of renegades.
There is no coup in Mali. There's just a mutiny, Toure wrote in a Twitter message, according to the Financial Times.
The president, who is 63, was due to step down in April after two, five-year terms.
On Wednesday, heavy weapons fire rang out in Bamako, Reuters reported. The rebel soldiers, angry over the government's handling of a Tuareg rebellion in the Sahara Desert in northern Mali, forced the state broadcaster off air after seizing parts of the capital.
We now know it is a coup d'état that they are attempting, a Defense Ministry official said, asking not to identified by name. A diplomat confirmed the clashes at the presidential palace to Reuters.
After hours of airing traditional Malian folk dancing and music, the national TV channel showed rebel leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo on screen Thursday, joined by his spokesman, Lt. Amadou Konare, to announce a nationwide curfew.
The National Committee for the Establishment of Democracy, 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 (President) Amadou Toumani Toure, said Konare, the Los Angeles Times reported. All the institutions of the republic are dissolved until further notice.
The rebels pledged to return to a democratically elected president after the Tuareg rebellion had been dealt with.
Clashes between forces of Mali's government and Tuaregs broke out in January after the members of the ethnic group returned from fighting on behalf of ousted Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.