Bamako (Mali): Soldiers stormed the presidential palace of one of the only established democracies in this corner of Africa and announced on Thursday that they had seized control of the country, ousting Mali's president just one month before he was due to step down at the end of his legal term.

Gunfire could be heard ringing throughout the capital, and the mutinous soldiers imposed a nationwide curfew. A flight headed to Bamako was forced to make a U-turn in the air after the airport closed.

The soldiers said they are overthrowing the government because of its weak response and mishandling of an ethnic Tuareg insurgency in the country's north.

On national television, a group of around 20 soldiers in military fatigues were shown crowding around a desk, facing the camera.

They announced that the country is under the control of the military's National Committee for the Reestablishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, or CNRDR. They said they were suspending Mali's constitution and dissolving its institutions.

The soldiers complained that the civilian government had not done enough to combat a rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists who want to carve out a homeland in the country's northern desert.

"The CNRDR representing all the elements of the armed forces, defensive forces and security forces has decided to assume its responsibilities and end the incompetent and disavowed regime of (President) Amadou Toumani Toure," they said, reading from a statement.

"The objective of the CNRDR does not in any way aim to confiscate power, and we solemnly swear to return power to a democratically elected president as soon as national unity and territorial integrity are established."

(Agencies)