Mali's PM resigns after being arrested by junta
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- Soldiers arrested Mali's prime minister and ordered him to resign because he "doesn't get along" with the army captain who led a coup in March in the African nation, a spokesman for the military junta said Tuesday.
Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra, dressed in a dark suit and his forehead glistening with sweat, went on TV at 4 a.m. to announce his resignation.
"Our country is living through a period of crisis. Men and women who are worried about the future of our nation are hoping for peace," he said. "It's for this reason that I, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government on this day, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. I apologize before the entire population of Mali."
He was arrested by the military in his home hours earlier, forced into a car and driven to the Kati military camp, the sprawling military base where the March 21 coup was launched. The developments indicate the military is still the real power in Mali, whose northern half fell to Islamist insurgents in the wake of the coup, even though the soldiers made a show months ago of handing power back to civilians.
The seizure of the arid north by Islamists provides a haven and training sites for groups linked to al-Qaida. European Union foreign ministers on Monday approved the concept of an EU training mission in Mali for an attempt by Malian and other African troops to wrest the north from the insurgents. But Germany is now indicating the arrest of Diarra may obstruct the plan.
"One thing is clear: our offers of help come with the condition that the process of restoring constitutional order in Mali be conducted credibly," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement. "And it is only that way that the crisis in northern Mali can be resolved."
"Interim President Traore and all the country's political leaders must now act responsibly so that Mali returns to stability," he added.
But the 70-year-old Dioncounda Traore might not have the power to bring the military to heel. In May, Yerewoloton, a violent citizen's movement which is believed to be backed by the junta, broke through the security cordon at the presidential palace and severely beat Traore.
A police officer who was on duty Monday night at Bamako's international airport said the same group stormed the airport before the prime minister was to fly to Paris.
"The plane that was to take the prime minister to France was on the point of departure," said the officer, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press. "It was stopped by people from the group Yerewoloton who invaded the airport. The people from Yerewoloton are still at the airport as we speak, searching cars."
The spokesman for the military junta said soldiers arrested Diarra.
"For several days now, Cheikh Modibo Diarra has mobilized his supporters and boycotted the national conference (currently being held to discuss Mali's future)," said spokesman Bacary Mariko. "And now he says he's going to Paris for medical tests ... but we know better and realize that he is trying to flee in order to go and create a blockage in the Mali situation."
Mariko claimed that Diarra was "not getting along" with the president or coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo.
"It's the reason why Mali's army has taken things into their own hands and told Cheikh Modibo Diarra to resign for the good of Mali," Mariko said.
A police officer and an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press confirmed that the 60-year-old Diarra had been arrested at his private residence around 10 p.m. Monday by soldiers loyal to Sanogo.
Diarra's televised declaration may have been made at the military barracks, and not at the headquarters of the state broadcaster. Behind Diarra when he spoke on TV was a bare wall, not the professional studio of the national television station.
Human Rights Watch's senior researcher for West Africa, Corinne Dufka, condemned the military's intervention, saying it fits with the pattern of abuse by the soldiers ever since the coup eight months ago.
"They've arrested, beaten and intimidated journalists; tortured and disappeared military rivals; and now, apparently, arbitrarily detained the prime minister. None of these incidents have been investigated and those responsible appear to have been emboldened by the shameful lack of accountability," said Dufka.
For several weeks, tension has been mounting between the officers who led the coup and Diarra, the civilian prime minister whom they were forced to appoint when they handed back power to a transitional government.
Diarra, an astrophysicist who previously led one of NASA's Mars exploration programs, was initially seen as in step with Sanogo. Critics lambasted him for frequently driving to the Kati barracks to see the coup leader, apparently to seek his advice long after Sanogo was supposed to have handed power to civilians. In recent weeks though, Diarra has appeared to be taking stances that sometimes conflict with Sanogo.
Last weekend for example, Diarra helped organized a demonstration calling for a United Nations-backed military intervention to take back Mali's north.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)