Mali PM quits after pressure from ex-junta

December 12, 2012 - 3:34:09 am

BAMAKO: Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra yesterday quit under pressure from influential former putschists who are opposed to a military intervention to drive out Islamists occupying the country’s north.

France and the European Union urged the ex-junta which overthrew Amadou Toumani Toure’s regime in March to stop meddling in politics and called for a new government to be formed as swiftly as possible.

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

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, appearing drawn.

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”

Mariko said Diarra was “not a man of duty” and added that a successor will “be named in the coming hours by the president.”

French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot condemned the manner in which Diarra was forced to resign.

“These developments underline the need to deploy an African stabilisation force. The former junta must stop interfering in national politics,” he said, calling for a “new representative government. . . to be set up quickly.”

EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton called on Mali to appoint a new prime minister acceptable to all sides and also urged the military to cease interfering in political life.

A spokesman for Ashton said preparations for a training mission in which 250 European soldiers will be sent to train Malian combat units and help restructure the country’s weakened army, would continue.

“But we will be particularly attentive of the attitude taken by the military.”

President Dioncounda Traore had yet to announce whether he had accepted the resignation, as Diarra remained under house arrest in the capital.

“The prime minister is under house arrest. He can’t see who he wants or go where he wants. There are soldiers at his house and he is not free to move around,” a member of his family said.

The former premier 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 Shariah.

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. His retreat from power appeared to be a facade as he continued to order arrests of politicians, journalists, soldiers and those seen as close to the former regime.

“Since March Sanogo and his men have been implicated in a steady stream of abuses,” Human Rights Watch researcher Corinne Dufka said, naming disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests, and intimidation of journalists.