The coup leader whose forces overthrew Mali's military dictator after a crescendo of anti-government protest promised Tuesday that "the army will no longer meddle in politics" and will oversee a prompt transition to multi-party democracy.
"One of the essential aims of our arrival (is) to install multi-party politics, real democracy in the style of certain other countries," Lt. Col. Amadou Toumani Toure told reporters after taking command of the impoverished West African country. "The army will return to its barracks" after establishing "social justice and total democracy," he said.
National radio early Tuesday reported the arrest of the former president, Gen. Moussa Traore, along with his family, and said he is being held at a paratroop base in Bamako, the capital.
Rumors of the coup had spread several hours earlier, sparking outbreaks of rioting and looting in which hospital sources said at least 59 people were killed and 200 wounded.
Cheers, car horns and whistles echoed round the city as the radio broadcast an army statement saying it had taken control.
Appealing for calm, the broadcast declared a nighttime curfew and said all borders and airports were closed, the constitution suspended and the government dissolved.
Traore, who seized power in a 1968 coup, had been fighting for his political life against a powerful pro-democracy movement that launched a general strike Monday demanding his resignation and an end to one-party rule.
Three days of rioting and clashes between demonstrators and security forces over the weekend left at least 150 dead and 1,000 wounded, according to Western diplomats.
Toure, a soft-spoken man wearing a neat green uniform and red beret, said the army stepped in because Traore's government was no longer able to keep the peace.
"It was a population in revolt, a population which was going onto the streets . . . and all because of the obstinacy of one man, one clique, one regime," he said.
A newly formed Council of National Reconciliation, composed of 16 senior soldiers and gendarmes and headed by Toure, met opposition leaders later on Tuesday morning.
Opposition leaders said they are confident that the military will step down once democratic institutions are put in place after a national conference to debate the shape of reforms.
"If they hang on to power, we'll fight them as we fought Moussa Traore, and we'll beat them as we beat Moussa Traore," human rights campaigner Demba Diallo told reporters.