Mali's Tuareg rebels pressed on with a campaign to seize the north as mutinous soldiers faced a global backlash Friday for staging a coup over the government's handling of the insurrection.
Europe suspended aid amid a chorus of rebukes and African security chiefs called an emergency meeting over the coup in a west African country key to fighting trans-frontier drug trafficking and growing terrorism.
The coup in Bamako opened the way for Tuareg rebels to deepen their hold on the north, and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) said it had seized the town of Anefis between the two main cities in the desert north.
The Tuareg offensive sparked a coup on Thursday by soldiers who say they were ill-equipped to fight off the desert nomads, many heavily armed after returning from fighting for Libya's slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo told journalists in an interview that Toure was "doing very well", and members of the government arrested by soldiers were safe.
On its website the MNLA said it "will continue the offensive to dislodge the Malian army and its administration from all the towns of Azawad" - the name for their professed homeland in the northern triangle of the bow-tie shaped west African nation.
Sanogo, who speaks with a raspy, hoarse voice, said the Tuareg rebels could join the army or be dealt with firmly.
"I will give them the opportunity to come around, otherwise I will face that what I have to face."
As few ventured out of their homes in Bamako, where some soldiers had turned to looting, the international community acted swiftly against the junta.
The European Union's executive arm said it was halting development operations temporarily as EU foreign ministers called for the return to civilian rule.
"Following yesterday's coup d'etat in Mali, I decided to suspend temporarily European Commission's development operations in the country until the situation clarifies," said EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
The EU stressed that direct support to the population would continue as well as humanitarian aid. Mali is threatened with a food crisis due to drought.
The European Union's executive arm planned to allocate 583 million euros ($772 million) of development aid to Mali between 2008 and 2013.
Mali's woes are viewed as a fallout of the demise of Kadhafi's regime, which employed the nomadic Tuareg who returned armed and jobless from Libya to their desert homes last year and resumed a decades-long independence battle.
The military, one of the continent's weakest according to analysts, was overwhelmed. It has blamed the government for lack of support to battle the Tuareg rebels.
"We oppose unconstitutional takeover of power," foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters, calling for a "return to normal order."
A mutiny by angry soldiers turned into a full blown coup early Thursday as they attacked the presidential palace and seized state institutions before appearing on television to announce the toppling of an "incompetent" regime.
Sanogo said Friday it was not only the northern insurrection by Tuareg that had prompted the coup but a general malaise within government.
"When a state is already 50 years old, and unfortunately the armed forces and security operate under minimal conditions to defend its territory, this is a failure," Sanogo said, justifying the coup.
He said the government leaders being held were "safe and sound."
"We will not touch a hair on their heads. I will hand them over to the courts so that the Malian people know the truth."
Mali is usually seen as politically stable, but unrest in the north, where Tuareg tribes have long felt ignored by a southern government and where Al-Qaeda has also taken root, has created a major security problem.
Under Toure's leadership, Mali -- which has battled successive Tuareg rebellions since independence and more recently Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb -- has been hailed as a growing democratic success.
But in mid-January the Tuareg launched a fresh rebellion for independence.
The fighting has forced as many as 206,000 people to flee their homes, compounding a humanitarian disaster at a time of drought and food shortages, according to the United Nations.
Source: AFP Global Edition