Malian military junta leader, Amadou Sanogo speaks to supporters at Bamako airport in Bamako
Tuareg separatist rebels battled the army for a key town in northern Mali on Thursday as a bid by West African leaders to negotiate a return to democratic rule with the junta fell apart before it began.
According to AFP, the Tuareg fighters attacked the key town of Kidal as a crisis deepened 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) to the south in Bamako where supporters and critics of the junta clashed during rival rallies.
Renegade soldiers angry at the government's inability to contain the two-month-old Tuareg rebellion, which has overwhelmed a poorly-equipped military, seized power a week ago, prompting stiff rebukes from Mali's foreign allies.
A crack team of presidents from Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Benin and Niger were on their way to Bamako to meet the putschists and wrest a deal on a return to constitutional order when they turned around mid-air.
The U-turn was prompted by a pro-coup demonstration which saw dozens of people swarm the runway at Bamako's airport.
"The summit is postponed because of the security problem at the Bamako airport" said Burkinabe Foreign Minister, Djibrill Bassole.
The regional heavyweights led by Ivorian President, Alassane Ouattara, who also chairs the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), returned to Abidjan for an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon after the incident.
The 15-nation ECOWAS suspended Mali during a meeting on Tuesday and has warned its regional troops are on standby.
In Bamako an anti-junta rally was interrupted by pro-coup demonstrators.
"There were clashes between the two camps at the labour exchange," a Malian security source told AFP, adding that security forces had intervened.
"Three were seriously injured," said a source at a Bamako hospital.
President Amadou Toumani Toure was chased out of power just five weeks before April 29 elections were to end his tenure by soldiers angry at his "incompetent" handling of the Tuareg rebellion.
The Malian military has been overwhelmed by the desert warriors, many of whom have recently returned, heavily-equipped and battle-hardened, from Libya where they fought alongside slain leader, Moamer Gaddafi.
They have seized several northern towns in fighting that has caused more than 200,000 to flee their homes.