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By NBF News
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Under pressure to hand over power, the leader of a military coup in Mali said yesterday that he had reinstated the nation's constitution and government institutions.

Capt. Amadou Aya Sanogo said in a statement that the coup's leaders would begin “consultations” to form a transitional government, which will be “responsible for organizing peaceful, free open and democratic elections in which we will not participate.”

The statement did not specify when the meetings or the elections would be held. Leaders of neighboring ECOWAS have condemned the coup and ordered the military junta to hand over power back to the civilian government by today or face sanctions. Meanwhile, rebels have planted their flag in the northern town of Timbuktu after government forces fled the ancient trading post, a local lawmaker and a resident told Reuters.

“They have arrived in the town. They are planting their flag,” El Hadj Baba Haidara, member of parliament for Timbuktu, told Reuters by telephone. A resident said the MNLA rebels had planted their flag at the governor's office, the mayor's office and the main military camp. Both sources said the town was mainly quiet, except for sporadic gunfire. It was not immediately clear if the rebels were in full control as an Arab-led militia remained in town after government forces fled.

Sanogo's announcement came as rebels in Mali said they had seized control of a key town in the north, a major blow to the coup leaders who toppled the nation's president last month. The Tuareg rebels' seizure of Gao marks a major prize for the fighters seeking to wrest control of the region to make it their homeland. The latest town, which the fighters said they seized Saturday, is hundreds of miles from the capital of Bamako.

In a statement, the rebels had said they are now battling for control of Timbaktu from the government, another major city in the north. The fall of Gao intensifies the crisis in the West African nation after soldiers ousted the president March 22 over what they said is his inability to handle the Tuareg rebellion in the north. In a statement during the coup, they accused President Amadou Toumani Toure of “incapacity” in battling the rebels, saying he did not equip soldiers with the means to quash the growing Tuareg insurgency. Sanogo reiterated concerns over the rebels in his statement yesterday.

“We are very concerned about the attacks carried out by various armed groups in the north of Mali and determined to defend, whatever it costs, the territorial integrity of our country,” he said. Tuareg rebels comprise different factions, including the main National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, which claimed they seizure of the town.

The influx of Tuareg fighters returning from Libya has re-energized the insurgency, whose battles with government forces have sent tens of thousands of Malians fleeing into neighboring countries.