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Junta claims control of Mali capital, arrests 100s

Mali's military junta said it has arrested about 240 people allegedly associated with an attempted coup earlier this week, and that they are shooting guns into the air as a warning as they try to round up more people they blame for the chaos.

"The city is under our complete control. There are patrols going on and there may be some warning shots and testing of weapons but that is all," said Bakary Mariko, a spokesman for the junta.

A group of soldiers in Mali toppled the country's democratically elected president in March. The junta leaders then handed power over to an interim government in April, but they still wield power.

On Monday evening, soldiers from Mali's parachutist regiment, also known as the Red Berets, attempted a countercoup but all the strategic locations they managed to gain control of were quickly recaptured by forces loyal to the junta leader, Capt. Amadou Sanogo.

Fighting in the capital between the junta and soldiers who were trying to oust them has killed at least 12 people.

On Wednesday, Mali's Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra appeared on state television. He said that there had been efforts to create a situation of panic in Bamako, and he asked the entire population to remain calm.

Some disturbances in Bamako on Wednesday were caused by students who had come out to protest after rumors spread that a leader of a student movement had been killed by forces close to the junta. Diarra denied that the student leader had been killed.

"The rumor was spread just to get masses of students onto the streets and to take advantage of the confusion that would create," Diarra said. "I'm asking all students to stay at home the next few days until we can determine exactly what is going on."

Junta spokesman Mariko said that they have arrested around 140 soldiers from the parachutist regiment and around 100 foreigners that they believe to be mercenaries from the region. He said, however, that the junta was still looking to make further arrests.

"Not all the people who are trying to destabilize this country have been arrested yet," he said. "Mercenaries are still arriving in fact."

The West African regional body ECOWAS announced last week that they planned to send troops into Mali to protect the interim president's and prime minister's offices.

The junta quickly rejected the plan, saying not a single foreign solider would step foot in Mali.

Mariko said that the junta suspects that foreign governments in West Africa could be assisting the arrival of mercenaries.

"I can't confirm that, but we have some suspicions," Mariko said, adding that he thinks the old regime of ex-president Amadou Toumani Toure is behind this.

Burkina Faso's Foreign Affairs Minister Djibrill Bassole, who has been acting as a mediator for the West African regional bloc told the Associated Press on Wednesday that no government is backing mercenaries in Mali.

"No government is involved," Bassole said. "It is possible that there people from the region who have come into Mali, but within the ECOWAS zone there is freedom of movement."

Mariko said some of the documents found on the foreigners showed they had been financed by Toure. The Associated Press could not immediately confirm this information.

Toure went into hiding after being chased from the presidential palace on the day of the coup in March. He only re-emerged briefly to officially resign as president and then later fled to Senegal.