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Interim PM slams persistent moves to ‘destabilise’ Mali

A man walks in the M'bere refugee camp near Bassiknou (© 2009 AFP)

Mali’s interim prime minister on Wednesday slammed repeated “attempts to destabilise the country,” a day after a failed counter-coup by forces loyal to ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure.

Tensions remained high at one of the counter-coup’s targets, the national TV and radio station ORTM. On Wednesday, staff in the state broadcaster’s building were forced to evacuate by troops fighting for Mali’s former junta.

The ex-junta had seized power in an initial coup in March that toppled Toure, before handing over power to an interim president who in turn appointed the PM Cheick Modibo Diarra.

“We have witnessed an attempt to destabilise the country these last 48 hours, which resulted in a temporary, not yet complete, victory for our army and our security forces” made up by ex-junta soldiers, said Modibo Diarra in a statement to ORTM.

“There are still some civilian and armed elements (loyal to the deposed president) on the loose, which justifies the massive presence of our armed and security forces in the city of Bamako.

“I would have preferred to wait until all these operations are over before coming to give you an update myself, but as we see, there is a persistence, this perseverance in attempts to destabilise the country, so I am here to make this interim statement,” he said.

“Stay calm, there is no reason to panic,” he told the people.

On Wednesday, an employee of the radio and television broadcaster said ex-junta forces appeared nervous as they forced staff to leave and ordered them to “return home”, without explaining the reasons for the evacuation.

An armoured car fired in the air nearby and the incident sparked panic locally, with banks closing and civil servants in a number of ministries fleeing their offices.

Bamako was already on edge after the failed counter-coup bid, which ex-junta leader Amadou Haya Sanogo blamed on “foreign elements backed by dark forces from inside the country”.

In an interview broadcast Tuesday, he said the situation was “under control” and that the latest violence was the result of “an internal matter that was being managed”.

Hospital officials told AFP that at least 22 people had been killed in fighting between the ex-junta and Toure’s loyalists, who are part of the presidential guard.

Aside from the attack on the ORTM building, the loyalists of the ousted regime struck at the airport and at Kati, the garrison town near the capital that is the junta’s headquarters, but calm had returned to most areas by Wednesday morning.

The objective of the assault on the ex-junta was “the assassination of military chiefs and particularly” Sanogo, Ibrahim Dahirou Dembele, the junta’s army chief of staff, told ORTM.

The United Nations Special Representative for west Africa, Said Djinnit, condemned the latest violence and said “it could only serve to complicate an already difficult transition”.

Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole, whose country has played a key role in negotiations with coup leaders, said the offensive launched Monday night was an “unfortunate incident.”

But it “does not undermine the institutions, the interim president is still in place, the institutions remain in place,” he said.

Facing pressure from neighbouring states who feared a dramatic rebel advance across Mali’s desert north, the junta agreed to stand down following an April 6 deal negotiated by west African mediators.

Even though the junta is technically no longer in power, it has remained a political player that has made its influence felt.

Sanogo on Saturday nixed a demand from the west African bloc ECOWAS for elections in Mali within 12 months.

He also has rejected a plan to send foreign troops into northern Mali, captured by a loose coalition of Tuareg and Islamist rebels following the March 22 coup.

But west African leaders fear that under rebel hands northern Mali could become a haven and training ground for extremists planning attacks around the region.

A delegation from ex-junta on Wednesday met in Burkina Faso with President Blaise Compaore, the ECOWAS mediator for Mali, for talks that were expected to touch on the precarious situation in the north.

One group operating in the north, an Al-Qaeda splinter called The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, on Wednesday demanded a total of 45 million euros ($59 million) in exchange for two European women aid workers and seven Algerian diplomats taken hostage.

The MUJAO spokesman Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui gave the figures in reply to a written question submitted by AFP.

The two women, an Italian and a Spaniard, were kidnapped in October along with a Spanish man while working in a camp for Western Sahara refugees in Tindouf in western Algeria.

The Algerians were abducted on April 5 in Gao, northeast Mali, amid the rebel offensive.

Signature : BAMAKO (AFP)

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