Mali's interim leader sidelines PM Diarra

2012-07-30 09:25

Bamako - Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore sidelined his controversial prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra on Sunday by announcing the creation of new bodies tasked with ending the crisis.

In a televised address to the nation, he announced he would be in charge of a High Council of State, lead talks for a unity government himself and create a committee to negotiate with the Islamists controlling Mali's north.

The High Council of State is designed to "complete the country's institutional architecture" and "adapt it to socio-political realities".

It will be made up of the interim president and two vice-presidents, one of whom will be in charge of defence and security and handling the four-month-old crisis in the north. The other will represent the various non-political forces in Mali.

Traore also announced a government of national unity, with consultations being led by himself and not by prime minister Diarra, who has been in the post since 17 April by who has come under fire by a broad front of political parties, unions and civil organisations.

A unity government has been demanded by west African neighbours who set a deadline of 31 July for its creation, otherwise sanctions would be imposed.

Traore said a "national negotiating committee" would be set up to "engage in peace talks so as to seek through dialogue negotiated solutions to the crisis" in the north.

Traore returned to Bamako on Friday amid tight security after a two-month stay in Paris for medical treatment after he was attacked by a mob in his office.

"I forgive my attackers," the 70-year-old said at Bamako airport after he landed in the west African nation, which is in a worse state of crisis than when he left it.

Difficult period

Armed, masked men kept watch on roofs to secure Traore's arrival, and he was greeted at the airport by Diarra.

Ex-junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led a 22 March coup which plunged the previously stable democracy into crisis, was also present.

"The Malian people are going through a very difficult period, starved for unity. I will apply myself to that," Traore said.

Traore said he was getting "better every day" after suffering a head injury when a mob of protesters against his appointment burst into his office on 21 May and beat him. He had been recovering in Paris ever since.

The interim president has a heavy workload awaiting him.

Hardline Islamists have strengthened their hold on the vast desert north of Mali, which they seized after the coup. The interim government which took over from the junta has proved powerless to deal with the occupation.

Diarra is trying to cobble together a wider unity government on the orders of mediators from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) regional bloc to deal with the mounting crisis.

Ecowas wants to send a 3 000-strong military force to Mali, but is waiting for United Nations approval and a formal request from Bamako from a more inclusive government.