In this file photo taken on March 20, 2021 Malian Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and his delegation attend the inauguration of the new river port of Konna in central Mali. - AFP

BAMAKO: Mali's interim president and prime minister resigned yesterday, a top junta aide said, two days after they were detained and stripped of their powers in what appeared to amount to the country's second coup in nine months. President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, tasked with steering the return to civilian rule after a coup last August, resigned in the presence of mediators visiting the military base where they were being held, said Baba Cisse, special advisor to junta boss Assimi Goita.

However a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union and UN mission MINUSMA mediation mission told reporters that the leaders had in fact resigned before they arrived. The delegation then went to speak to Goita-who holds the rank of vice president in the transitional government-again after seeing him late Tuesday. "We saw the vice president again to express our dissent," the member told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Cisse said negotiations were under way for the pair's release and the formation of a new government in the poor Sahel country. Their detentions triggered widespread international condemnation and the threat of sanctions. The UN Security Council was set to hold an emergency meeting later Wednesday at the request of former colonial power France and others, with French President Emmanuel Macron likening the recent events to a second coup.

The ECOWAS mediators met with Ndaw and Ouane at the Kati military camp around 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the capital Bamako. A member of the delegation headed by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan had warned that ECOWAS "could quickly announce sanctions" if the crisis is not resolved. France was also prepared to impose "targeted sanctions", Macron said after a European Union summit.

'Unacceptable coup'

Macron, whose country has committed more than 5,000 troops to Mali's fight against jihadism in the Sahel, condemned the arrest of Ndaw and Ouane as a "coup d'etat in an unacceptable coup d'etat". On Monday, the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS, the EU and United States issued a rare joint statement, attacking the detention and demanding the pair be released. That demand was echoed on Tuesday by Britain and Germany. A senior Malian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that Ndaw and Ouane had "spent the night in good conditions," adding: "The president saw his doctor."

A member of Goita's team said that during the talks with the ECOWAS mediators, they had "explained their reasons" for pushing the two men out, and insisted that elections would still be held next year. Young military officers ousted president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last August after weeks of demonstrations over perceived government corruption and his handling of the jihadist insurgency. ECOWAS, a 15-nation regional bloc, threatened sanctions, prompting the junta to hand power to a caretaker government that pledged to reform the constitution.

Ndaw and Ouane had been heading that interim government with the declared aim of restoring full civilian rule within 18 months. But recently there had been signs of discontent among the public, with the opposition M5 movement demanding a "more legitimate" body. On May 14, the government said it would appoint a new "broad-based" cabinet. The reshuffle, designed to respond to growing criticism, saw the military keep the strategic portfolios it controlled during the previous administration. But two other coup leaders-ex-defence minister Sadio Camara and ex-security minister Colonel Modibo Kone-were replaced, prompting officers to detain the president and prime minister.

'Intent to sabotage transition'

Goita, who holds the rank of vice president in the transitional government, accused Ndaw and Ouane of failing to consult him on the reshuffle. "This kind of step testifies to the clear desire of the transitional president and prime minister to seek to breach the transitional charter," he said, describing this as a "demonstrable intent to sabotage the transition".

The transitional charter, a document largely drawn up by the colonels, sets down principles for underpinning Mali's return to civilian rule. "The scheduled elections will be held in 2022," Goita added. But many have doubted whether the military-dominated government had the will-or the ability-to stage reforms on a short timescale. - AFP