BAMAKO, Mali — Drunk soldiers looted Mali's presidential palace hours after they declared a coup on Thursday, suspending the constitution and dissolving the institutions of one of the few established democracies in this troubled corner of Africa.
The whereabouts of the country's 63-year-old president Amadou Toumani Toure, who was just one month away from stepping down after a decade in office, could not be confirmed.
The soldier heading the group of putschists said on state television late Thursday that Toure is "doing well and is safe." Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo refused to say where the ousted leader is being kept, and did not make clear if they are holding him.
The scene in this normally serene capital was unsettling to those proud of Mali's history as one of the few mature democracies in the region. Soldiers smelling of alcohol ripped flat-screen TVs, computer monitors, printers and photocopiers out of the presidential palace.
The mutineers said they were overthrowing the government because of its mishandling of an ethnic Tuareg insurgency in the country's north that began in January. Soldiers sent to fight the separatists have been killed in large numbers, often after being sent to the battlefield with inadequate arms and food supplies, prompting fierce criticism of the government.
The coup began Wednesday, after young recruits mutinied at a military camp near the capital. The rioting spread to a garrison thousands of miles (kilometers) away in the strategic northern town of Gao.
Criticism of the coup was swift. France is suspending all government cooperation with Mali, except for aid. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said officials were meeting to discuss whether to cut off the $137 million in annual U.S. assistance.
The United Nations Security Council issued a statement denouncing the coup, calling for the safety and security of the president, for the troops to return to their barracks, and for the restoration of democracy.