Mali names new PM in abrupt power shift

Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 8:00am

Mali's president has named Diango Cissoko as the country's new interim prime minister, according to state media reports, hours after the abrupt resignation of the former prime minister following his arrest by soldiers.

Cissoko is a former public ombudsman for the republic, according to the state-owned newspaper L'Essor.

In a brief online report, the newspaper states that interim President Dioncounda Traore signed two decrees Tuesday, one removing Diarra from office and the second naming Cissoko as his successor.

"Things happened very quickly yesterday," the report says.

Cissoko, 62, is a longtime civil servant, according to public broadcaster ORTM, having served as secretary-general for former President Moussa Traore and his successor, Amadou Toumani Toure, who was deposed in March.

Diarra abruptly resigned Tuesday on state television, a day after he was arrested by soldiers loyal to a former coup leader.

The development was seen as another blow to the stability of a country once hailed as a model of democracy in Africa, but derailed this year by a coup and an uprising of Islamist militants.

It is not yet clear what impact the change in leadership will have on regional and international efforts to tackle advances by the militants in the country's North.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday he was "troubled" by the resignation and called again for a cessation of military interference in politics. He called for Mali to hold elections and restore peace and stability.

The Economic Community of West African States, which appointed the interim president, also expressed concern over the resignation and condemned "any form of interference by the military in the political process."

It urged the Malian president to "take all necessary and immediate measures to form a representative and inclusive government as soon as possible in order to pursue the ongoing efforts to end the crisis."

Diarra, a former NASA engineer who holds U.S. citizenship, was set to fly to Paris for medical care Monday. But he received notice that his bags had been removed from the plane he was on, according to an aide who spoke to CNN on the condition of not being named.

Diarra went home. Three pickup trucks filled with armed soldiers pulled up late at night and took him away to military headquarters in Kati, five miles north of the capital, Bamako, the aide told CNN. Former coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo met Diarra.

Before dawn, armed soldiers brought the former prime minister to broadcaster ORTM and gave him a statement to read, said TV technician Adama Haidara. "I cannot say if he was forced," Haidara said. "He looked unharmed."

In his televised appearance on the military-controlled broadcaster, Diarra did not offer a reason for his resignation, except for a vague statement that he solemnly delivered.

"Our country, Mali, is going through the most difficult period in its history," he said. "During this time of crisis, the men and women of this country -- uncertain of what is going to happen to their country -- find themselves in an unfortunate situation.

"That's why I, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, have resigned with all my government, on this day, Tuesday, 11 of December of 2012."

Diarra's whereabouts are unknown, but his aide said Tuesday he believed he was still in Bamako. He was not harmed when he was arrested, the aide said.

"The arrest was made by a small force loyal to Sanogo," army spokesperson Col. Idrissa Traore said. "The majority of the military officers in Bamako were not informed about the arrest of Mr. Diarra, and no one knows what will happen now."

Mali held its first democratic elections in 1992 after decades of military rule, and had a strong democracy for the most part.

That was until March, when a group of soldiers toppled the government, which it accused of not providing adequate equipment to battle ethnic Tuareg rebels roaming the vast desert in the North.

The then-President Amadou Toumani Toure disappeared from sight.

The Tuareg rebels took advantage of the power vacuum and seized parts of the North. They have always wanted independence, and have staged several rebellions since the 1960s.

After Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed in October 2011 and Libya plunged into chaos, Tuaregs, who had fought by his side, took weapons to Mali to ramp up their efforts.

A power struggle erupted between the Tuaregs and local al Qaeda-linked radicals, who prevailed and seized control of two-thirds of northern Mali, an area the size of France.

The international community is also worried that al Qaeda's North African wing is expanding into Mali.

U.S. officials have said that the wing, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is linked to the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others.

Tuareg rebels have retreated from the well-armed militants, but have vowed to fight back and establish their own country in the North, which they call Azawad.

West African states and international leaders say a rapid military intervention is essential to solving the security crisis.

When soldiers seized the capital in March, the regional and international powers put pressure on them to restore democratic rule.

Sanogo conceded and transferred power in April to Dioncounda Traore, after he was put forward by ECOWAS. Traore appointed Diarra as interim prime minister.

Traore fled to a Paris hotel after being beaten unconscious in a May 21 attack that occurred in the presidential palace.

Diarra took over the country's leadership until Traore returned.

As the world seeks a solution to the crisis, the Islamist militants are busy applying their strict interpretation of Sharia law, including the banning of music, smoking, drinking and watching sports on television.

They also publicly stoned a couple to death in July for reportedly having an affair.

Public executions, amputations, floggings and other inhumane punishments are becoming common, the United Nations says.

At least four times this year, the militants have attacked Timbuktu's historic tombs and shrines, claiming the relics are idolatrous. The picturesque city was once an important destination for Islamic scholars for its ancient and prominent burial sites and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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