Soldiers looted the presidential palace on Thursday of one of the few established democracies in this corner of Africa, hours after ousting Mali's leader about one month before he was due to leave office anyway.

There were conflicting reports on President Amadou Toumani Toure's whereabouts. The mutinous soldiers imposed a nationwide curfew, warning people to stay off the streets until further notice. Land borders were closed.

The soldiers said they intended to hand over power to an elected government, though it appeared highly unlikely that Malians would head to the polls as scheduled on April 29. More than a dozen candidates were expected to run, though the incumbent was not taking part as he already had served the maximum two terms.

The soldiers said they were overthrowing the government because of its mishandling of an ethnic Tuareg insurgency in the country's north that began in mid-January.

The rebellion grew when fighters who had supported the late Libyan leader, Muammar Qadhafi, returned home heavily armed. The unrest has forced tens of thousands to flee.

More In: International | News