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West African leaders call on Mali junta to free president

BAMAKO, Mali (The Southern African Times) — West African leaders escalated pressure on Mali’s ruling junta late Thursday, calling on them to allow President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s return to power as the mutinous soldiers who overthrew him insisted his midnight resignation had been his own decision.

The junta behind Tuesday’s military takeover said the 75-year-old Keita was only being held at army barracks for his own protection, and denied he had been ousted in the first place.

“There was no coup d’état because the constitutional order is still in force,” junta spokesman Ismaël Wagué told reporters at a press briefing late Thursday. “The president of the republic resigned on his own after making an analysis of the country’s situation.”

Keita was last seen by Malians late Tuesday on state broadcaster ORTM where he announced his immediate resignation and the dissolution of his government and the National Assembly. His speech came just hours after mutinous soldiers had surrounded his house and fired shots into the air before detaining him and the prime minister.

Heads of state from the regional bloc known as ECOWAS late Thursday called for the mobilizing of a standby regional military force, saying Keita must be allowed to serve out the three years left in his term after this week’s “coup attempt.” They warned that the junta was responsible for the safety of Keita and all other detained government officials.

The United Nations and France also urged a return to constitutional order in Mali, amid fears that Islamic extremists could once again gain ground amid the political upheaval, derailing more than seven years of effort to stabilize the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron again condemned Tuesday’s coup “against a president who was democratically elected by his people.”

“We asked for him to be released as quickly as possible, and for no violence to be committed,” Macron said, speaking Thursday evening alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

ECOWAS previously invoked the potential use of its standby military force in 2017 after then-Gambian President Yahya Jammeh refused to acknowledge defeat in an election. Jammeh ultimately agreed to go into exile and no military action was taken.

ECOWAS said it would soon send a delegation to Bamako to try to help restore constitutional order. The bloc already had suspended Mali’s membership, closed its borders with the country and promised other financial sanctions against the junta leaders.

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