/ 9 April 2012

Mali waits for junta to stand down after president resigns

Mali waited anxiously on Monday to see if the military junta that seized power on March 22 would restore democracy after the toppled president formally resigned, meeting the putchists’ key demand.

Amadou Toumani Toure’s resignation puts the ball in the coup leaders’ court, after they reached a transition deal with regional mediators promising to hand power to a transitional government once the deposed president formally quit.

Looking weary and thin in his first public appearance since the coup, Toure said on Sunday he had not been pressured to resign, but said he felt it best to submit his resignation to the mediation team from West African bloc Ecowas.

“More than anything, I do it out of the love I have for my country,” he said in TV images of a meeting with the chief mediator, Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole.

Under the deal, the junta is now supposed to hand power to a civilian government led by speaker of parliament Dioncounda Traore, who will be tasked with organising elections — if possible within 40 days, according to the agreement.

The deal also calls for the Economic Community of West African States to lift its sanctions on Mali and gives amnesty to those involved in the coup.

Traore’s government will take over a country mired in chaos.

Actions justified
Although the coup leaders justified their actions saying Toure was not doing enough to fight the northern rebellion, Islamist and Tuareg fighters took advantage of the power-grab to seize roughly half the country, including the fabled city of Timbuktu.

Tuareg fighters on Friday declared an independent state called Azawad, but the secession was rejected by the international community and even their former allies, the Islamist militia.

Underlining the chaos in the north, a splinter group of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Qaeda’s north African branch, claimed responsibility on Sunday for the abduction of seven Algerian diplomats taken Thursday from their consulate in Gao.

A spokesperson for the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa told AFP the group would be “making its demands known”. Islamists now hold 20 hostages in the Sahel region.

From Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, who played a key role in regional mediation efforts, hailed the transition deal as a first step in restoring order.

The international community now needed to concentrate on two key issues, he said.

“It’s the return to constitutional order on one hand, and on the other, it is the preservation of Mali’s territorial integrity,” said Compaore.

“We have been able to make progress on the first, and we have in days to come to engage on the second.”

Traore, who flew into Mali from Burkina Faso on Saturday, said the country needed the army to recover all its territory.

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged quick implementation of the transitional accord, and Mali’s neighbours Mauritania, Algeria and Niger called for the immediate transfer of power.

Morocco said it would send 14 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Niger, already facing a food shortage as it struggles to cope with an influx of Malian refugees amid a drought.

According to the United Nations, more than 200 000 people have fled their homes in Mali since January.
Amnesty International has warned of a major humanitarian disaster in the region.

Residents in rebel-held towns have reported systematic looting, rapes and the implementation of sharia law in places. — AFP