BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Malians lined up outside gas stations holding jerrycans, water bottles and plastic jugs, as the landlocked West African nation braced itself Tuesday for sanctions imposed overnight as a consequence of a coup last month.
In an effort to force out the soldiers that seized control of Mali on March 21, Mali's neighbors decided at an emergency summit Monday to impose an embargo, shutting their borders with Mali and freezing its account at the regional central bank. The nation roughly twice the size of France imports all its fuel, which is trucked in overland from neighboring Ivory Coast and Senegal, both of which are located on Africa's Atlantic Coast.
The country's electricity grid is also expected to falter in coming weeks, or days. April is one of the hottest months of the year in Mali and the country's hydropower system is unable to carry the load because of low water levels. Fuel is used in the hot months to run diesel generators.
Mali's president was sent into hiding when a group of disgruntled soldiers started a mutiny at a military base located around 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the presidential palace. From the base, they decided to march on the palace. In a matter of hours, they succeeded in reversing more than two decades of democracy.
The Economic Community of West African States, representing 15 nations in the region, has been uncharacteristically harsh in their condemnation of the coup. They gave the putschists a 72-hour deadline to restore civilian rule, which expired Monday. When the junta failed to do so, they announced that sanctions would go into effect immediately.
Bathily Seye, the owner of a local chain of gas stations called Afrique Oil, said that if no new shipments are allowed in, his 15 pumps will run dry in days.
"We don't have our own gas. It's all imported," he said. "There is absolutely nothing here. We don't have any refining capacity. ... I don't have the stock. In two days, my pumps will run out of gas."
At a Total station at 9 p.m. Monday, the day the embargo was announced, a young engineer came to fill up his Renault Megane. After the car was full, he asked the attendant to also fill up a jerrycan and a flat, plastic container that looked like it was once used for paint thinner.
"I am trying to create a reserve," said Mohamed Lamine Dembele. "If they keep the border closed, it will be very hard for us to refuel. We risk running out of gasoline in the entire country."
The soldiers who grabbed power said they did so because of the former president's mishandling of an insurgency in the north by Tuareg rebels. Since the coup, however, the rebels have effectively seized control of the entire northern half of the nation, taking the three major towns of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu over the weekend.
A former minister, Mohamed Ag Erlaf, identified himself as the chief negotiator for Mali's junta and said the main rebel group that seized the north is willing to hold talks on the future of the country. Reached by telephone, Erlaf said Tuesday that the rebel National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad is open to discussions.
However, an NMLA spokesman in Paris told France 24 TV late Monday that the rebels have had no direct contact with the junta which toppled Mali's government. Moussa Ag Attaher said they do not recognize coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo.
He said: "Neither the international community nor the population of Mali recognize him. If we are to negotiate, it needs to be with someone that is recognized."
Associated Press Writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Niamey, Niger.