Two days after a military coup the African Union has said it had assurances that President Amadou Toumani Toure was safe, but reports from the ground warn that soldiers have looted petrol stations and hijacked cars in Mali's capital.
Residents in Bamako, the capital city, said looting had caused shortages and fuel prices had doubled to over $2.60 (1,300 CFA francs) a litre in about 24 hours.
"I am a driver but there is no fuel for the car, I do not even have fuel for my bike to go back home," said Youssouf Diawara as he queued with other motorists for petrol.
Although most shops, petrol stations and businesses were closed, some residents ventured out in search of necessities.
"People are afraid because of the soldiers. Often [they take] what is in the car or they make you get out and take the car or sometimes the soldiers themselves just break into shops," said Adama Quindo, another Bamako resident.
Later in the day, however, an appeal by the army captain Amadou Sanogo for an end to the looting seemed to take effect as the streets became quieter and soldiers were seen at one warehouse arresting a group of 20 civilians who were taking goods.
The AU suspended Mali's membership after the coup earlier in the week, which has left the West African nation in limbo and jangled nerves in a region suffering aftershocks from last year's Libyan war.
"We have been told that the president is safe, protected by a certain number of loyalists," AU Commission head Jean Ping told reporters on Friday after a meeting of the bloc's Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa.
"The president is in Mali for sure. The assurances we are getting from those that are protecting him is that he is not far from Bamako," Ping said.
Rumours swirled of an imminent counter-coup led by Toure loyalists and that named coup leader Sanogo had been killed, a suggestion denied on state TV.
"We assure you that everything is fine," a statement from the coup's leaders on Friday said.
"We invite you to go about your daily business as normal."
Sanogo later appeared on the evening news, but it was not clear when the shots of him were taken.
The coup's leaders have sought to capitalise on popular dissatisfaction at Toure's handling of a rebellion by northern fighters launched in January, but they looked isolated as a coalition of parties condemned the coup and urged new elections, which before Wednesday's events had been scheduled for April.
"The signatories ... condemn this forceful takeover which is a major setback for our democracy," 10 parties including ADEMA, the largest in parliament, said in a joint declaration.
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|William T. Hathaway|