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Mali crisis deepens as PM quits under pressure from ex-junta
by Staff Writers
Bamako (AFP) Dec 11, 2012

US slams ouster of Mali PM as setback for democracy
Washington (AFP) Dec 11, 2012 - The United States Tuesday condemned the forced resignation of Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, saying it was "a setback" in the west African nation's efforts to restore democracy.

"We condemn this act by the military junta and insist that it halt its continued interference in Malian political affairs and government," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Diarra quit Tuesday under pressure from influential former putschists who are opposed to a military intervention to drive out Islamists occupying the country's north, and imposing a brutal interpretation of sharia law.

The United States joined France and the European Union in urging the ex-junta that overthrew Amadou Toumani Toure's regime in March to stop meddling in politics.

Diarra's arrest overnight and his subsequent resignation was "a setback for Mali's transition and its efforts to try to restore constitutional order and democratic government," Nuland said, speaking to reporters.

The events illustrated "the need to get as quickly as possible to free and fair elections, ideally by April 23rd or as soon as it's technically feasible."

"A popularly elected government of Mali is critical to restoring that country's ability to control and defend its territory," Nuland said.

She also revealed that the US expected some kind of action at the United Nations on Mali this week, after smoothing over some differences with France.

"We've had very good discussions over the last 24 hours... I think we've been able to work things through," Nuland said, adding "you may not see action today, but you'll probably see action this week."

UN Security Council condemns Mali PM arrest
United Nations (AFP) Dec 11, 2012 - The UN Security Council on Tuesday condemned the arrest of Mali's prime minister by the armed forces and renewed a threat to impose sanctions against "constitutional" troublemakers.

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon also he was "troubled" by the new turmoil in the African nation, where Islamist militants and rebels have taken over half the country.

"The members of the Security Council condemn the arrest, on December 10, 2012, of the prime minister of Mali, Mr Cheick Modibo Diarra, by members of the Malian Armed Forces," said a council statement.

The 15-nation body said the action contravenes repeated UN calls for the Malian military to stop interfering in the west African nation's transition.

"The members of the Security Council express their readiness to consider appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions, against those who prevent the restoration of the constitutional order and take actions that undermine stability in Mali," added the statement.

The UN council called on interim president Dioncounda Traore to "swiftly reappoint an inclusive government of national unity."

Islamists and rebels took over the northern half of Mali in March, taking advantage of a military coup in Bamako. Despite the appointment of an interim government the army has been accused of continually holding on to power.

Cheick Modibo Diarra quit on Tuesday after being put under arrest by the coup leaders, who oppose a foreign-aided military intervention to drive out Islamists.

The UN council stressed its "commitment to authorizing as soon as possible the deployment of an African-led international support mission in Mali."

France is drawing up a resolution giving a mandate to an international force. But negotiations have been prolonged by United States opposition to sending just an African-led force to Mali.

Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra quit Tuesday under pressure from former putschists opposed to a regional military intervention against Islamists controlling the north, a move that drew international condemnation.

The troubled west African nation's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, swiftly appointed Django Sissoko to replace Diarra and promised a new government by the end of the week.

The UN Security Council condemned the arrest of Diarra by soldiers on orders from former coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, which was followed several hours later by his resignation in what one analyst dubbed a "quasi-coup".

The council joined calls from France, the United States, the European Union and the regional bloc ECOWAS for the military to stop meddling in political affairs, and threatened targeted sanctions against those preventing the "restoration of constitutional order."

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the move against Diarra, a US citizen, "a setback for Mali's transition."

The fresh crisis comes amid mounting confusion over plans for a foreign military intervention to drive out Islamists who occupied over half of Mali's territory in the wake of a coup led by Sanogo in March.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "troubled by what happened in Mali."

Diarra's resignation came a day after the EU approved plans to deploy an military training mission of some 250 troops Mali to help the government regain control of the vast semi-desert north.

The 60-year-old astrophysicist and former chairman of Microsoft Africa was seized at home by soldiers late Monday and hours later at dawn went on state television to announce he was stepping down.

"I, Cheick Modibo Diarra, resign with my government," he said solemnly.

A spokesman for Sanogo's former junta in Europe, Bakary Mariko, told France 24 television the sequence of events was "not a new coup d'etat" but observers say it was clear he was strongarmed.

"The latest episode of the Malian crisis looks like a quasi-coup carried out by the former -- but still influential -- military junta and its allies," said London-based analyst Samir Gadio.

"The objective is most likely to prevent a direct ECOWAS military deployment in Mali which would undermine the power base of Captain Sanogo and his associates."

A member of Diarra's family, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the former premier was "under house arrest. There are soldiers at his house and he is not free to move around."

French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot and EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton called on Mali to appoint a new prime minister acceptable to all sides, while ECOWAS stressed the need for an "inclusive, representative government."

The interim president answered foreign concerns by swiftly naming Django Sissoko, until now Mali's ombudsman, as the new prime minister and promising to give the country a new government by the end of the week,

Diarra was a staunch advocate of French-backed plans to send in a west African intervention force to drive out the extremists, who are running the zone according to their brutal interpretation of sharia Islamic law.

Citizens have been flogged, had their hands amputated and been stoned to death as punishments for transgressions.

Such foreign intervention is fiercely opposed by Sanogo, who still wields considerable influence in Bamako despite handing over power to an interim government after his March 22 coup.

Sanogo's coup was sparked by soldiers' anger over their rout at the hands of well-armed Tuareg separatist rebels seeking independence for their homeland in the north.

While he handed over power to a civilian government, Sanogo continued to wield significant influence, and interim authorities remained paralysed as the Tuareg, allied with Islamists, continued their juggernaut, seizing the northern triangle of the bow-tie shaped nation, an area larger than France.

Divisions between the Islamists and secular Tuareg over the future of the occupied are saw the alliance crumbled and the Al Qaeda-linked extremists forced the Tuareg out of their positions by June.

Europe, the United States as well as Mali's neighbours fear the vast zone will become a haven for terrorist groups and pose a threat to their countries.

West African nations are pressing hard for the United Nations Security Council to approve the foreign force and Germany and the United States have also offered training and logistical support.

But misgivings are rife over the plan to send in 3,300 west African troops. Many of Mali's neighbours still prefer a negotiated solution and both the UN and US have urged caution and demanded more detail on the force's capabilities.

"Everything has fallen apart," an African diplomat based in Mali told AFP. "It is starting to appear as if the Americans are right, the problem in Bamako must be solved first."

Deep divisions in Malian society led to a second postponement of planned national talks due to start Tuesday to plan the transition back to democracy and tackling the security crisis in the Islamist-occupied north.


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