West African leaders call on Mali junta to free president

West African leaders call on Mali junta to free president

BAMAKO, Mali — West African leaders escalated pressure on Mali’s ruling junta late Thursday, calling on them to release President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and allow him to return to power days after he was forced to resign by mutinous soldiers.

Heads of state from the regional bloc known as ECOWAS also called for the mobilizing of a standby regional military force, saying that Keita must be allowed to serve out the three years left in his term after the “coup attempt.”

The 75-year-old Keita and his prime minister remained in military custody at the barracks in Kati where the coup originated. The ECOWAS statement said the junta was responsible for the safety of Keita and all other detained government officials.

The United Nations and France also urged a return to constitutional order in Mali, amid fears that Islamic extremists could once again gain ground amid the political upheaval, derailing more than seven years of effort to stabilize the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron again condemned Tuesday’s coup “against a president who was democratically elected by his people.”

“We asked for him to be released as quickly as possible, and for no violence to be committed,” Macron said, speaking Thursday evening alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The warning from ECOWAS was not the first time the bloc has invoked the potential use of it its standby military force. In 2017, a similar call was issued to then-Gambian President Yahya Jammeh when he refused to acknowledge defeat in an election. Jammeh ultimately agreed to go into exile and no military action was taken.

ECOWAS said it would soon be sending a delegation to Bamako to try to help restore constitutional order. The bloc already had suspended Mali’s membership, closed its borders with the country and promised other financial sanctions against the country’s junta leaders.

French, U.N. and West African partners have spent the past seven years trying to stabilize Mali after a similar 2012 coup created a power vacuum that allowed jihadists to seize control of northern towns until a French-led military operation the following year.

“Mali has not only descended into political chaos, but also socioeconomic and security disaster with potential tragic consequences to Mali and the sub-region,” Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said.

Keita and the prime minister were detained Tuesday by mutinous soldiers who surrounded the president’s private residence in Bamako and fired shots into the air. Under duress, Keita later announced his resignation on state television, saying he did not want any blood to be shed to keep him in power.

Analysts have said there were few signs that political opposition leaders were aware of the coup in advance, though they now stand to benefit through an opportunity to serve in the transitional government promised by the junta.

Observers fear the political upheaval will allow Islamic extremists in Mali to expand their reach once again. After al-Qaida-linked militants took over the major towns in northern Mali, they implemented their strict interpretation of Islamic law, including amputating hands for those accused of theft.

France, which maintains strong economic and political ties to Mali, later led the intervention to force them from power.

But those jihadists have since regrouped and launched relentless attacks on the Malian military, as well as U.N. peacekeepers and regional forces trying to stabilize the volatile country. The extremists also have moved southward, inflaming tensions between ethnic groups in central Mali.

Col. Assimi Goita, the country’s new strongman, had been head of a special military unit based in central Mali. He also had taken part in the annual Flintlock training organized by the U.S. military to help Mali and other Sahel countries better fight extremists.

Marc-André Boisvert, a member of the U.N. panel of experts for Mali and an independent researcher on the Malian armed forces, said that was nothing unusual.

“Everybody in the armed forces who wants to become an officer and wants to progress needs foreign training,” he said.

This coup appeared well-organized by a group of officers with experience in the field, he said. There was quick communication, little to no bloodshed, and statements of reassurance directed at the international community.

“It was a really smooth and well-oiled machine,” he said.

Keita, the toppled president, had won the 2013 election in a landslide, emerging from a field of more than two dozen candidates to get more than 77% of the vote. He won reelection five years later, but his political fortunes have tumbled in the past year.

While Mali’s Islamic insurgency started before Keita took office, many felt his government did not do enough to end the violence. The extremists only expanded their reach, infiltrating the central part of the country where they inflamed tensions between ethnic groups. Attacks have dramatically increased over the past year.

Opposition to Keita’s government rose further after legislative elections earlier this year that dozens of candidates disputed. In a conciliatory gesture, Keita said he was open to holding the vote again in contested areas. But by June, demonstrators were taking to the streets en masse calling for his ouster.

___

Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed reported this story in Bamako and AP writer Krista Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. AP writers Lori Hinnant and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

Baba Ahmed And Krista Larson, The Associated Press

Mali

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Just Posted

Central zone down to 16 active COVID-19 cases

Alberta Health Services’ central zone is down to 16

Red Deer drum circle aims to ‘bring different cultures together’

Central Alberta Refugee Effort, Urban Aboriginal Voices Society hosted the event Friday

Students reassured pandemic’s academic impact will be taken into account

Some Grade 12 students concerned how pandemic will affect their post-secondary plans

Liberals vow wage-subsidy extension to 2021, revamp of EI system in throne speech

Canadian labour market was hammered by pandemic, when lockdowns in the spring led to a loss of 3 million jobs

Family demands release of evidence in Breonna Taylor’s case

Family demands release of evidence in Breonna Taylor’s case

Paris stabbing suspect wasn’t on police radar, minister says

Paris stabbing suspect wasn’t on police radar, minister says

POLL: Will the COVID-19 pandemic influence your plans to celebrate Thanksgiving?

Will the COVID-19 pandemic influence your plans to celebrate Thanksgiving?… Continue reading

As restaurants brace for cold weather, second wave, industry seeks meal subsidy

As restaurants brace for cold weather, second wave, industry seeks meal subsidy

Gateway Casino gets first federal loan for big employers, worth $200 million

Gateway Casino gets first federal loan for big employers, worth $200 million

Calfrac makes changes to recapitalization plan in an effort to woo shareholders

Calfrac makes changes to recapitalization plan in an effort to woo shareholders

Tourmaline Oil files preliminary prospectus for $252.5M Topaz Energy IPO

Tourmaline Oil files preliminary prospectus for $252.5M Topaz Energy IPO

Furloughed WestJet workers demand clarity on wage subsidy program amid pay cut

Furloughed WestJet workers demand clarity on wage subsidy program amid pay cut

Most Read