Tuareg rebels took advantage of the chaos surrounding the coup in the faraway capital to take the town of Kidal, located 800 miles from Bamako on Friday. They seized the biggest northern city of Gao, 745 miles away, on Saturday - cities that never fell in previous rebellions. A resident in Timbuktu said that the rebels entered the town after a heavy firefight, and were going house-to-house asking people to remain calm.
Mali, once a model democracy, was plunged into crisis on March 21 when a mutiny erupted at the Kati military camp, just 6 miles from the presidential palace. Sanogo, who is in his 30s, was one of the few officers who didn't flee the camp when the rank-and-file soldiers began rioting, and he quickly became their leader as they broke into the camp's armory, grabbed automatic weapons and headed for the seat of government.
His coup reversed 21 years of democracy, and sent President Amadou Toumani Toure into hiding. Toure was due to step down after the presidential election, which was scheduled to take place at the end of this month. Mali's neighbors had given the country a 72-hour deadline to restore constitutional order, or else face crippling sanctions. Sanogo's declaration appears intended to stave off the sanctions, which were due to take effect Monday.
A senior adviser to the president of neighboring Ivory Coast said that the regional body representing states in West Africa was considering calling off the sanctions for one week. The information was confirmed by a diplomat from Burkina Faso, the country that is taking the lead in mediating the crisis.
In his declaration, Sanogo said, "We take a solemn promise to re-establish from this day on the constitution of the Republic of Mali of February 25, 1992, as well as the institutions of the republic."
"Taking into account the multidimensional crisis that our country is facing," he added, "we have decided that . . . we will engage in consultations with all the actors of society in the context of a national convention in order to put in place a transitional body with the aim of organizing calm, free, transparent and democratic elections in which we will not participate."
Legal experts say that his declaration is contradictory. If the 1992 constitution is reinstated, said law professor Malick Sarr at the University of Bamako, then logically the ousted president should become head of state again.