UPDATE 1-Mali capital paralysed by anti-rebellion protests

Thu Feb 2, 2012 10:38pm GMT

(Adds defence minister replaced, demonstrator quote)

BAMAKO Feb 2 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Malians set up barricades and burned tyres in the streets of Bamako on Thursday, shutting down the capital in protests against the government's handling of a rebellion that has seized several northern towns.

The demonstrations came amid reports the Tuareg-led rebels, who are fighting for an independent north, had taken control of the northeastern town of Menaka.

Mali's president replaced his defence minister on Thursday evening in an apparent concession to demonstrators, who accuse the government of failing to give its soldiers enough arms or equipment.

Defence Minister Sadio Gassama swapped posts with Natie Plea, who had previously held the lower-profile interior security ministry portfolio.

Dozens of people have been reported killed and thousands of civilians have fled their homes after the rebels launched a three-pronged assault in mid-January.

Anti-government demonstrations erupted after reports that soldiers fighting the rebels had run out of ammunition and dozens of troops had been executed by insurgents.

"We can't go on seeing our relatives killed in the north as if there wasn't any authority or any army in the country," said one of the Bamako demonstrators, 30-year-old Oumar Traore.

A Reuters reporter in Bamako said shops were shuttered early in the afternoon and smoke hung over parts of the city after tyres had been set on fire.   Continued...

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