(Adds Mali street protests, details, switches dateline)
By Arshad Mohammed and David Lewis
WASHINGTON/BAMAKO, March 26 (Reuters) - The United States said on Monday it would suspend some aid to Mali after last week’s coup, estimating $60-70 million may be affected, but stressed it would maintain food and humanitarian assistance.
Five days after an overnight coup, the West African state is in limbo with the whereabouts of President Amadou Toumani Toure uncertain, the putsch leaders disowned by neighbours and world powers, and Malians confused over their country’s fate.
“We have now taken a decision to suspend our assistance to the government of Mali pending a resolution of the situation,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We want to see the elected government restored as quickly as possible.”
“We will continue... to provide humanitarian and food assistance to those displaced by the conflict in the north and those affected by the region’s food crisis but the rest of our government-to-government assistance will be suspended,” Nuland told reporters at her daily briefing.
Last week’s coup ousting of Toure was born out of frustration among mid- and low-ranking soldiers over a lack of equipment to battle Tuareg-led rebels fighting for independence for the vast desert north.
“A little more than half of our $140 million (in aid to Mali) is food assistance, so I am expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of $60-$70 million in assistance will be suspended but we’ll have better numbers for you later on,” Nuland added.
The spokeswoman said the United States - Mali’s biggest bilateral donor - had yet to make a formal determination as to whether a military coup has taken place in Mali, a finding that would require it to cut off most aid.
“We’re still considering this a ‘mutiny’ with uncertain results,” Nuland said. U.S. law bars aid “to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”
The European Union said last week it suspended development operations in the country, a major regional cotton and gold producer, but also left humanitarian help unchanged.
Former colonial power France, which had encouraged Toure to play a more robust role in regional security efforts targeting local al Qaeda agents and other crime, has suspended certain security assistance to Mali.
Further action is expected on Tuesday when West African leaders of the regional ECOWAS bloc meet in Ivory Coast to discuss the crisis. A formal suspension of Mali from the group is among the measures expected.
Life in the capital Bamako has returned to some semblance of normality after mutinous soldiers used heavy weapons to force Toure out of the presidential palace and occupy key institutions such as state television.
Major political parties have distanced themselves from putschists led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, a hitherto obscure officer, and demanded they hand power back to civilians. Close to a thousand locals showed their anger at last week’s event in the first street protest against the coup on Monday.
“We need to learn from Senegal’s example,” said teacher Moussa Coulibaly of a peaceful election in neighbouring Senegal in which incumbent Abdoulaye Wade conceded defeat to challenger Macky Sall.
Some held banners reading “The army at the frontline, power to the people”, underlining that the coup has been a distraction which has encouraged northern rebels to make further advances - exactly the result which the putschists sought to avoid.
But the coup leaders have won support in some quarters, notably among critics of the 10-year rule of Toure they as marred by corruption and clanism.
“This democracy had been corrupted. It had become a democracy of the rich,” Mahamane Mariko, spokesman of the youth groups supporting the coup, told around 500 supporters in a basketball stadium near the presidential palace.
“Malians are happy with those who came to power on March 22. The embassies will not change our mind. We are ready to pay the ultimate price,” he said.
The crowd then took to the streets for a short march, escorted by soldiers who fired volleys of shots into the air in celebration as they walked through the streets of Bamako. (Writing by Mark John in Dakar; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)