Mali PM Cheick Modibo Diarra resigns after army arrest

Mali's Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra resigns on state television

The prime minister of Mali has resigned on state television, hours after being arrested by soldiers who were behind a military coup in March.

Cheick Modibo Diarra was detained on Monday at his home in the capital Bamako, reportedly on the orders of the coup leader, Capt Amadou Sanogo.

He had been due to travel to France.

Mr Diarra was made prime minister of an interim government in April after the military officially handed power back to civilians.

The 60-year-old astrophysicist has backed plans to send a West African intervention force into the northern half of Mali which was seized after the coup by Islamists and Tuareg separatists.

Analysis

Cheick Modibo Diarra had put himself in a dangerous position in recent weeks.

He had lost popular support - if he ever had it - as well as the backing of most of the political class and, more importantly, the High Islamic Council, a key player in this crisis.

Observers and diplomats in Bamako feared Mr Diarra could be removed at any time. Appointed at the helm of a transitional government, he was quickly seen as more interested in his own presidential ambitions.

He was part of an awkward triumvirate that did not work, with interim President Dioncounda Traore and coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who despite his official low-profile kept a grip on internal affairs.

The former junta leader said Mr Diarra had been arrested to allow the country to move on. But what appears to be a forcible resignation will send the wrong message to the international community: that of a military still meddling in political affairs.

This could further delay diplomatic talks over a potential military intervention to retake the north from Islamist radicals.

But tensions between the soldiers who led the coup and the civilian prime minister they were forced to appoint have been mounting in recent weeks.

Many within Mali's military are opposed to foreign intervention, saying they need only financial and logistical support.

Military spokesman Bakary Mariko told the BBC that the prime minister was suspected of attempting to jeopardise the planned political dialogue over the transition to democracy.

"Eight months ago the prime minister was given the mission to help Mali recover its territorial integrity, but unfortunately he has been working to stay in power indefinitely," he said.

Mr Diarra would be held until a new prime minister was appointed by the interim president, the spokesman said.

'Hope for peace'

In his address on national broadcaster ORTM, Mr Diarra gave no clear explanation of his resignation.

"Men and women who are worried about the future of our nation, you are hoping for peace. It's for this reason that I, Cheick Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government."

A member of the president's entourage earlier told AFP news agency that the prime minister had been arrested by about 20 soldiers from the sprawling Kati military base where the 21 March coup was launched.

The source said soldiers had: "smashed in the door of the prime minister's residence and took him away a bit violently".

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"They said Captain Sanogo sent them to arrest him," he added.

Security officials said Mr Diarra was then driven to Kati.

The military spokesman told Reuters that Mr Diarra "wanted to leave the country having incited trouble".

The prime minister had been about to leave the country for France - the spokesman told the BBC he had been due to have a medical check-up there. It is not known if he had been trying flee.

The streets of Bamako were reported to be quiet early on Tuesday. One reporter told the BBC that "people were starting to go to work and maybe did not get the information yet".

'Potentially explosive'

Mr Diarra, the son-in-law of Moussa Traore, a former Malian coup leader and president, had been leading a government of national unity.

Mali's main rebel groups

  • Ansar Dine - Islamists based in Timbuktu
  • Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao) - Islamists based in Gao
  • National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) - Tuareg fighters ousted by Islamists from former northern strongholds

It was formed in August in an attempt to satisfy regional demands for a transition from military rule and to restore stability following the March coup, which led to the entire northern half of the country being occupied by hardline Islamists and Tuareg rebels.

The Islamists have since taken control of northern Mali's main urban centres, imposing a strict version of Islamic law.

The United Nations warned on Monday that the north of the country is now "one of the potentially most explosive corners of the world".

The West African regional group Ecowas has agreed to send 3.300 troops to reclaim rebel-held territory. The deployment has been backed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

On Monday, the European Union backed plans for a 250-member training mission for around four battalions of the Malian army to fight the militants.

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