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Mali's transitional president resigns while in detention

FILE - In this Monday, Aug. 24, 2020 file photo, Col. Assimi Goita, who has declared himself the leader of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, arrives to meet with a regional delegation at the Ministry of Defense in the capital Bamako, Mali. Goita, has regained control of the West African country on Tuesday May 25, 2021, by deposing the president and prime minister of the transitional government in an unprecedented move. But Goita, who has served as vice president, is promising to still hold new elections next year. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed, File)

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali’s transitional president has resigned while he and the prime minister are in detention after being arrested by the military earlier this week.

The resignation by the leader of an 18-month civilian transitional government risks plunging the troubled nation into further instability and comes as representatives of the West African regional bloc are in Mali to mediate the political crisis, officials said Wednesday.

The U.N., the African Union and other international bodies have urged Mali’s military to release the transitional leaders.

Transitional President Bah N’Daw dismissed Prime Minister Moctar Ouane Wednesday before handing in his own resignation letter to transitional Vice President Col. Assimi Goita, who led the 2020 coup, according to a military official. A West African diplomat who is involved in mediations also confirmed the resignation and dismissal. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak to the press on the subject.

It is not known the conditions under which the two transitional leaders are being held.

Goita likely intends to take power himself to control the transition, the diplomat said.

On Tuesday, Goita retook control of Mali, saying he had deposed the president and prime minister because they had formed a new government without consulting him. The two were arrested Monday by the military hours after naming a new Cabinet that did not include two major former junta leaders.

International mediation with Mali’s military, led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan of the West African regional body known as ECOWAS began Tuesday and stretched into Wednesday at the Kati military camp outside the capital, Bamako, where the deposed leaders have been held.

The international community has condemned the detention of the transitional leaders, with French President Emmanuel Macron describing it as a coup and warning of repercussions, including targeted sanctions.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Wednesday, “We were very clear with the junta: the transition must include civilians. It must be peaceful, it must be inclusive and it must be limited in time. What has happened with what amounts to a coup d’etat within the coup d’etat constitutes for us a rupture of confidence.”

The EU has also warned that it is “ready to consider targeted measures against political and military leaders who obstruct the Malian transition.”

Jonathan, who arrived Tuesday night with the West African delegation, said they came to Mali as a mediation team to listen to different parties, including the military, civil society groups and others.

“There is cordial discussion, friendly discussion going on for the common interest of the people of Mali” Jonathan told journalists Tuesday night after meeting with and other members of the military and government.

Jonathan earlier acted as mediator in the political crisis last year after the junta detained former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Aug. 18 forcing him to resign. ECOWAS previously threatened the junta with sanctions if it did not install a civilian president and prime minister, and shorten the transitional period to 18 months.

When Goita spoke Tuesday, he pledged to move forward with new elections in 2022 as previously promised. But his display of force casts doubt that there won’t be further significant interference by the junta that overthrew the last democratically elected president.

The instability also worries the international community that the new political unrest could further destabilize efforts to control Mali’s long-running Islamic insurgency. The United Nations now spends some $1.2 billion annually on a peacekeeping mission in Mali and France’s military has spent eight years trying to stabilize its former colony amid the ongoing threat.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for calm and the immediate release of the detained civilian leaders, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said late Tuesday.

“This action has serious consequences for Mali and the region as a whole,” Dujarric said.

Goita’s claim to power Tuesday came a day after the transitional president and prime minister were arrested by soldiers and brought to the military headquarters in Kati, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) outside the capital. Their arrests came hours after a new Cabinet was announced. That new government had left out two men who were prominent junta members.

The African Union, United Nations, the E.U., France and the U.S. among others immediately warned Mali’s military leaders that their actions could undermine global support for the country.

Goita, who led the junta calling itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, has served as Mali’s vice president in the transitional government formed last September. He has held that position despite initial calls from the international community for an entirely civilian-led transition.

There has been widespread concern the upheaval in Mali over the past year has further set back efforts to contain the militants linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State groups that have created instability in the region for nearly a decade.