In March 2012, President Touré was overthrown in a coup by mutineering soldiers who said they were acting in response to the government"s response to the rebellion by the Tuaregs, nomadic insurgents of Berber and Arab descent who live in the north. The troops said they did not received adequate support from the government. Many of the Tuaregs had fought for Libyan leader Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and returned to Mali after his downfall, emboldened and armed with weapons. The rebels scored a number of victories, taking over towns and demoralizing the country"s military. The soldiers looted the presidential palace, suspended the constitution, and implemented a curfew. The coup did not impede the rebels. In fact, days after the coup, the rebels seized the city of Timbuktu, and thus gained control over much of the northern part of the country. They declared a cease-fire on April 5. The next day, however, the rebels said they had seceded from Mali and formed an independent state, called Azawad.
The Economic Community of West African States, a regional trade organization, imposed sanctions on the country, froze the assets Mali held in its bank, and sealed their borders with Mali. Mali had been considered one of the most stable democracies in Africa, and presidential elections had been set for April. President Touré said he planned to honor the country"s term limits and not seek reelection.
In a deal negotiated by ECOWAS in April, coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo agreed to step down, ousted president Touré resigned, and former parliament speaker Dioncounda Traoré was sworn in as interim president. Cheick Modibo Diarra, an astrophysicist who had worked at NASA, was named interim prime minister. Traoré vowed to confront the rebels and hold elections, but did not give a timetable for the vote. Days later, however, several members of the opposition were arrested by the military, which suggested the junta was still clinging to power. Concern about Sanogo"s refusal to relinquish power played out on May 21 when pro-military