Mali appoints colonel as interim president, coup leader as vice president

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Former Mali defence minister and retired colonel Bah Ndaw was named interim president on Monday while the leader of the junta that seized power last month, Colonel Assimi Goita, was appointed vice president, Goita said in a statement.

Mali’s ruling junta has come under intense pressure from leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to return power to civilians following the Aug. 18 coup that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

It was unclear whether the arrangement would satisfy ECOWAS, which last week threatened to step up economic sanctions and impose a total embargo on landlocked Mali if its conditions were not met.

An ECOWAS spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment. A delegation led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is due to visit Mali on Wednesday.

ECOWAS leaders, and Mali’s partners including France and the United States, are nervous the coup will set a dangerous precedent, and undermine a fight against Islamist militants across the Sahel region.

Ndaw and Goita were appointed by a group of 17 electors chosen by the junta to oversee an 18-month transition leading up to fresh elections. They will be sworn in on Friday, Goita said on state television.

Regional leaders had demanded that the interim president and prime minister be civilians, while signalling they would accept a soldier as vice president so long as he is ineligible to replace the president.

Goita did not say whether the vice president would remain next-in-line to the presidency as stipulated in a transitional charter approved in multi-party talks earlier this month.

Ndaw served as an aide to Mali’s former military ruler Moussa Traore, the head of Mali’s air force and defence minister under Keita in 2014.

Leaders of the M5-RFP coalition that organised mass protests against Keita before the coup – and has since feuded with the junta about the military’s role in the transition – signalled support for Ndaw.

“He is a man of principle, a loyalist, a man of faith and a nationalist who loves his country. He is not manipulable,” said Nouhoum Togo, an M5-RFP spokesman, who worked for Ndaw at the defence ministry.

Togo added that he hoped the prime minister be an M5-RFP member.

REUTERS