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Mali coup leaders close all borders amid condemnation from Washington and Africa

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Al-Arabiya

A Malian junta announced Thursday the closure of the country's borders after claiming to have seized power from President Amadou Toumani Toure in a coup in the early hours of the morning.

"We have closed all the borders until further notice," Sergeant Salif Kone said in a statement on state television, surrounded by the band of mutineers who have formed a junta calling itself the National Committee for the Establishment of Democracy, according to AFP.

A source at the airport had earlier confirmed the closure of the airport, saying all flights to and from Mali had been cancelled in the wake of the coup.

Calling themselves the National Committee for the Establishment of Democracy, Mali troops earlier fought their way into the presidential palace and forced Toure to flee.

The soldiers said they acted due to government's "inability" to put down a Tuareg-led insurrection in the north, and claimed on television to have ousted an "incompetent regime" and dissolved state institutions.

Condemnation poured in from around Africa and abroad over the ouster of President Amadou Toumani Toure, who had just over a month left in power before a scheduled election on April 29.

The United States strongly condemned the violent coup by renegade Malian soldiers and demanded the return of civilian rule to the west African gold and cotton-producing nation.

"We call for the immediate restoration of constitutional rule in Mali, including full civilian authority over the armed forces and respect for the country's democratic institutions and traditions," the White House said in a statement, according to Reuters.

"The United States stands by the people of Mali and the legitimately elected government," the White House said, welcoming statements by the African Union condemning what it called an "unconstitutional seizure of power."

The African Union Commission chief Jean Ping urged "the mutineers immediately to put an end" to the country's first coup in 21 years, while continental powerhouse South Africa condemned the seizure of "power through the use of force."

Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula was among African foreign ministers stranded in the country after attending an African Union meeting on peace and security.

International condemnation was swift with France suspending cooperation with its former colony while the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation expressed "extreme shock" at the coup in a country which had achieved democratic success in recent years.

The junta has also called all civil servants to return to work on March 27.

"Any unjustified absence will be seen as an abandonment of the post," spokesman Lieutenant Amadou Konare said.

He added that the secretary generals of government's ministries were charged with "handling current affairs until a new government is put in place."

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemned the military coup in Mali and called for a swift return to democracy in the country.

OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu expressed "extreme shock" at the coup, according to a statement.

Ihsanoglu called on the leaders of the coup "to respect democracy and enable the Malian people... to express its free will," adding that the country's problems should be resolved "through dialogue."

The coup comes just a month before Toure was due to step down ahead of April elections after serving two presidential terms. He was not a candidate.

Under his leadership Mali -- which has battled successive Tuareg rebellions since independence and more recently al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb activities -- has since been hailed as a growing democratic success in the region.

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