Mali's government says it has formed an "elite force" to protect the country's interim leaders, seven weeks after an attack on the interim president.
Government spokesman Hamadoun Toure said in an interview with VOA's French to Africa service Monday that the force of 1,200 will be assigned to guard the president, prime minister, the speaker of the national assembly, and other state institutions.
Toure says most of the personnel just finished Malian police and gendarmerie schools. "All of them are Malian," he says. "They are the best." He says the government has asked international partners to provide equipment and training.
Protesters attacked and injured interim President Dioncounda Traore at the presidential palace in May, following a political deal to extend his term. Traore was eventually taken to Paris for treatment and has not returned to Mali.
Mali has endured months of political turmoil since Tuareg separatists began a rebellion in January. Disgruntled soldiers toppled the elected government in March, enabling Tuareg separatists and Islamist militants to seize the major cities in the north.
The military junta, under international pressure, later formed an interim government whose leaders have vowed to retake the cities.
Regional bloc ECOWAS is seeking U.N. authorization to send a military force to northern Mali to dislodge the rebels.