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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, December 13, 2012 12:48 pm

Mali gets new prime minister after military ouster

By BABA AHMEDAssociated Press

The troubled nation of Mali swore in a new interim prime minister on Thursday, just days after soldiers behind this year's military coup arrested his predecessor and forced his resignation.

Diango Cissoko officially took office in the Malian capital of Bamako, where he said the former prime minister would be available as needed during the political transition.

Earlier this week, Cheikh Modibo Diarra announced his resignation as prime minister on state television at 4 a.m. hours after soldiers stormed his house.

"I am moved and pleased that the prime minister Diarra said he will be close by to assist me as needed," Cissoko said.

The African Union on Thursday welcomed Cissoko's appointment despite the circumstances under which Diarra left office.

"As much as we strongly condemn the conditions under which the prime minister was compelled to resign, we also believe that we need to be forward looking and support the new prime minister and assist him and the authority of the interim president ... in precisely establishing and ensuring absolute civilian oversight over the military," El Ghassim Wane, a senior official of the AU peace and security council, told reporters at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Mali's interim government was intended to return the West African nation to civilian rule following the March military coup.

However, the coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo has maintained his hold on the country and the political instability has raised concerns about a proposed military intervention to retake Mali's north from radical Islamists.

The former prime minister, Diarra, was initially seen as being in-step with Sanogo. Critics lambasted him for frequently driving to the Kati barracks to see the coup leader, long after Sanogo was supposed to have handed power to civilians. In recent weeks though, Diarra had taken stances that sometimes conflicted with Sanogo.

The new prime minister, Cissoko, won favor with Sanogo by giving him equal standing with the interim president and prime minister during mediation efforts to resolve Mali's political crisis.

The military's meddling in state affairs has concerned the international community. Many worry that supporting the operation will simply further arm and embolden the very officers responsible for Mali's current state.

Radical Islamists were able to gain hold of northern Mali during the power vacuum that followed the March coup. Over the past eight months, they have implemented their strict version of Islamic law known as Shariah, carrying out public executions, amputations and whippings. Many worry that, under the Islamists' rule, northern Mali will become a base from where al-Qaida will be able to launch terror attacks on other countries, including into Europe.

A proposed military intervention to oust the Islamist rebels that would include Malian forces is still pending final approval from the United Nations.


Associated Press writer Kirubel Tadesse in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia contributed to this report.