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US halts military ties with Mali as crowds hail junta takeover

Colonel Malick Diaw (C), vice-president of the CNSP (National Committee for the Salvation of the People) at a rally in Bamako, Mali Aug. 21, 2020.
Colonel Malick Diaw (C), vice-president of the CNSP (National Committee for the Salvation of the People) at a rally in Bamako, Mali Aug. 21, 2020. AFP - MALIK KONATE
6 min

The US on Friday said it had suspended cooperation with Mali's military in response to the overthrow of the president, as thousands gathered in the capital to celebrate the junta's takeover.

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The ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Tuesday has dismayed Mali's international partners, who fear it could further destabilise the former French colony and West Africa's entire Sahel region.

"Let me say categorically there is no further training or support of Malian armed forces full-stop. We have halted everything until such time as we can clarify the situation," the US Sahel envoy J. Peter Pham told journalists.

The US regularly provides training to soldiers in Mali, including several of the officers who led the coup. It also offers intelligence support to France's Barkhane forces,who are fighting jihadist groups in the Sahel region.

Pham said a decision on whether Washington would designate the actions a coup, which could trigger a cut-off of direct support to the government, had to go through a legal review. A Pentagon spokesperson referred on Friday to the events as an "act of mutiny".

There has been no word from Keita since Tuesday, when he dissolved parliament and then resigned after being detained at gunpoint, deepening the crisis facing a country struggling to fend off an insurgency by Islamist militants.

Crowds celebrate president's ouster, junta thanks them

Despite widespread regional and international condemnations, Keita's ouster was celebrated on the streets of the capital, Bamako on Friday with jubilant crowds gathering in the central Independence Square.

The demonstrators were mainly supporters of Mali's opposition coalition, M5-RFP, who had demonstrated since June for Keita to step down from power. 

Although the coalition was not behind Tuesday's coup d'état, they issued a statement expressing support for the downfall of the government and endorsing the junta's plan to return the country to civilian rule.

“The M5-RFP welcomes the resignation of President Ibrahima Boubacar Keïta, the dissolution of the National Assembly and the government,” said the statement. 

The junta in turn welcomed the coalition's support at Friday's rally in Bamako.

"We have come here to thank you, to thank the Malian public for its support. We merely completed the work that you began and we recognise ourselves in your fight," the junta's spokesman, Ismael Wague, told supporters of the M5 movement, 

Mali's instability mounts
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UN team meets Keita

Earlier Friday, UN human rights officials said they were given access overnight to Keita and other detainees. The UN peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, provided no details on what was said or on the condition of the captives.

Junta leaders have promised to oversee a transition to elections within a "reasonable" amount of time. They plan to install a transitional president who may be "either a civilian or a soldier", the junta's spokesman told FRANCE 24 in an interview on Thursday.

Colonel-Major Ismael Wague, the junta's spokesman, told FRANCE 24 that the soldiers who seized power on Tuesday are “in contact with civil society, opposition parties, the majority, everyone, to try to put a transition in place”.

A council headed by a transitional president will be “either a civilian or a soldier”, Wague said, vowing that the transition would be "as short as possible".

West African mediation

The military overthrow has dismayed international and regional powers, who fear it could further destabilise the former French colony and West Africa’s entire Sahel region.

The coup is Mali's second in eight years.

A putsch in 2012 helped hasten a takeover of northern Mali by al Qaeda-linked militants, and al Qaeda and Islamic State group affiliates are active in the north and centre of the country.

France, the EU, the US, the African Union and the UN Security Council have all condemned the latest military takeover and demanded the release of detained leaders.

French President Emmanuel Macron criticised the coup on Wednesday, arguing that “the fight against terrorist groups and the defence of democracy and the rule of law are inseparable”.

A delegation from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expected to arrive in Bamako on Saturday.

The mission, led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, intends "to negotiate the immediate release of the president and also ensure the restoration of constitutional government," Jonathan's spokesman said, adding that the timing of the visit is not yet confirmed.

ECOWAS has already suspended Mali's membership, shut off borders and halted financial flows to the country.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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