* PM forced to resign on television after arrest by soldiers
* Military spokesman says not a coup, but PM 'blocking'
* Development complicates efforts to organise intervention
By Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra
BAMAKO, Dec 11 Mali's prime minister was forced
to resign on Tuesday by the soldiers who staged a coup in March,
underscoring the military's continuing grip and complicating
international efforts to help push Islamists from the north.
Once a beacon of democracy in West Africa, Mali has been
mired in crisis since the coup, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and al
Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters took advantage of the chaos to
seize the northern two-thirds of the arid nation.
Although the soldiers gave way to a civilian president and
prime minister in April under international pressure, they have
never been far from power and have shown their readiness to
stamp their authority on divided and weak politicians.
Cheick Modibo Diarra resigned as prime minister hours after
he was arrested trying to leave the country for former colonial
power France and was brought to the ex-junta's headquarters at a
barracks in Kati, just outside Bamako.
"I, Cheick Modibo Diarra, hereby resign with my entire
government," a nervous-looking Diarra said in a short statement
broadcast on state television early on Tuesday. Diarra is a
former NASA scientist and Microsoft chief for Africa.
Fearing Mali has become a safe haven for terrorism and
organised crime, West African leaders have signed off on a plan
to send 3,300 soldiers to Mali to revamp Mali's army and then
support operations to retake the north.
But Diarra's arrest could discourage international partners
from backing the plan until civilian rule is strengthened.
"What is really clear now is that the military junta is the
one that is in control," said Gilles Yabi, head of the
International Crisis Group's West Africa programme.
"They have the weapons, they have the force and they are
taking control of the transition," he said. "It clarifies the
fact that the immediate obstacle in the crisis in Mali is now in
Bamako and not the north."
France, the keenest of the foreign powers to see action
against the Islamists, called on Tuesday for a new government to
be set up under interim civilian President Diouncounda Traore.
"These developments underline the need for the rapid
deployment of an African stabilisation force," French Foreign
Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot told reporters in Paris,
demanding that the former junta stop interfering in politics.
Diarra was forced to step down during a meeting with ex-coup
leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, according to Bakary Mariko, a
spokesman for the former junta. Mariko accused Diarra of urging
supporters to disrupt talks on the political crisis and said he
had failed to liberate the north or organise free elections.
"This is not a coup. The president is still in place but the
prime minister was no longer working in the interests of the
country," Mariko said.
A soldier in Kati said he witnessed a tearful Diarra being
scolded by Sanogo for having brought shame to the country.
The president was due to address Malians later on Tuesday.
Downtown Bamako was calm, but the main road leading to Kati was
blocked for security reasons, residents said.
Sanogo has been repeatedly accused by his critics of
political meddling since he stepped down and was given the task
of overseeing reforms of Mali's army.
Even before Diarra's arrest and resignation, support for the
military intervention plan was not universal.
Despite France's desire to see military action against
Islamist groups that include al Qaeda's North African wing,
AQIM, the United States and the United Nations have expressed
concern, saying the plan lacks necessary detail.
The United Nations warned on Monday that Mali was "one of
the potentially most explosive corners of the world".
"Discussions at the Security Council were already difficult.
Now they are even more so," said a Bamako-based diplomat.
Some of Mali's politicians support the idea of a
foreign-backed military operation while others, including much
of the military, say they need only financial and logistical
The arrival of a foreign force in Mali might weaken the sway
of the former junta.
Mariko said the Malian army was ready to act even without
"We want the help of the international community but if it
has to wait until September or until an undefined date, then the
Malian army will act to free its territory," he said.
The European Union on Monday approved a plan to send 250
trainers to revamp Mali's military but stressed that the army
would have to be under civilian authority.
As the son-in-law of Moussa Traore, a former Malian coup
leader and president, Diarra had appeared to have good ties with
However, tensions became particularly acute in recent weeks,
with analysts saying Diarra, a relative newcomer to Malian
politics after years abroad, seemed keen to establish a
political base of his own ahead of any future elections.
"I am not sad to see him go but the involvement of the
soldiers will only complicate things internationally," said
Bamako resident Kassoum Togola.